Immigrant Welcome Center Bill Passes

The Maine Legislature has voted to pass a bill to establish a job training center for immigrants in Lewiston, but the House Republicans have amassed enough votes to sustain a veto if Gov. Paul LePage decides to oppose it. LD 1492 provides $390,000 for the welcome center, which would provide English language courses, adult education, vocational training and a community planning support program to attract and manage newly settled immigrant populations. Testifying in support of the measure last May, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec Cty.) noted that Maine is facing a “demographic tsunami” due to the large number of baby boomers retiring and the lack of young people coming into the workforce to replace them. And immigrants, he argued, can be part of the solution if they can be properly trained to fill the jobs available.

“Legal immigration should be a social justice issue. But put that aside for a moment,” wrote Katz. “I’m here today to talk only about our own economic self-interest. The bottom line is that not only do we need to be willing to welcome a more diverse population if we are going to draw young, skilled, educated workers to Maine — there is an economic imperative that we do so.”

Former Maine Department of Labor workforce researcher John Dorrer testified that while more Mainers died than were born between 2011 and 2014, the state gained over 5,000 foreign-born individuals. He estimated that there are over 1,000 immigrants in Maine who are under-employed, despite many having college degrees or high technical skills, because many are lacking English proficiency. Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, testified that he had seen this problem firsthand.

“I worked with one young man that had been a front office manager at a very famous hotel in Africa, and he was very excited to return to the hospitality industry, but unfortunately his inability to master the English language was an impediment to his success,” wrote Dugal. “Frankly, it made him and his employer uncomfortable to a point that he decided to pursue other opportunities.”

However, the bill was strongly opposed by nativist and white supremacist groups, who argued that it is part of a conspiracy to replace white people with darker-skinned immigrants.

“The sad truth is, open-borders Leftists at the swamp want to welcome, educate and retain everyone but Mainers!” wrote Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) in an email blast in January. “There is too much at stake to let identity politics and the Left’s War on Whites rule the day. The wallets of hardworking Mainers are on the line. Our safety is at stake!”

During the public hearing on the bill, Kittery resident Kyle Fitzsimons said that he moved to Maine from Rhode Island and New York to get away from what he described as “multi-cultural hell holes.” “We are being replaced,” Fitzsimons told the legislative committee. “And I’ll level this at all of you because you’re sitting elected officials during the opioid crisis that’s affecting Maine and killing us all. Killing off yankee New England culture. You’re doing nothing about it. No, you’re bringing in the new Third World. You’re bringing in the replacements.” The bill is currently awaiting action by the governor.

LD 1492 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (87 Yeas, 58 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) X
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) X
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-S. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (26 Yeas, 7 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) N
U = unenrolled
X = absent


Health Insurance Consumer Protection Bill Passes

The Legislature has passed a measure (LD 1279) that would prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage to patients on the basis of preexisting conditions. The bill would also ban them from putting lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of health benefits and require insurers to allow young adults under 26 years of age to stay on their parents insurance. While all three protections are currently already mandated in the federal Affordable Care Act, LD 1279 would retain the protections for Mainers even if the Republicans in Congress repeal the law. Speaking in favor of the bill last year, Maine Consumers for Affordable Healthcare lobbyist Steve Butterfield noted that Maine already had these protections prior to the ACA, but the state law only protected people with preexisting conditions from denials or higher premiums as long as they maintain continuous coverage for a certain length of time. Like the ACA, the bill allows insurance carriers to restrict enrollment in individual health plans to certain open enrollment and special enrollment periods.

“The woman who told us last week about her daughter’s heart surgery at the age of 8 deserves to know that her little girl will be allowed to stay on her insurance as she matures into a young adult,” wrote Butterfield. “That little girl deserves to know that she will not be punished for the rest of her life because she was born with a condition that happens to come with a hefty price tag.”

LD 1279 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (78 Yeas, 67 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) X
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) X
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Motion: To Defeat the bill
Senate (14 Yeas, 17 Nays)

Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

Constitutional Convention Resolutions Fail

Two resolutions calling for Constitutional Conventions narrowly passed the Senate, but failed in the House. Under Article V of the US Constitution, states may call a convention to propose Constitutional amendments without Congress if 34 states, or two-thirds, pass a resolution. Constitutional amendments approved at a convention would need three-fourths of the states, or 38, to ratify them in order to take effect. There hasn’t been a Constitutional Convention since 1787 in Philadelphia.

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) presented both resolutions, which included one calling for a federal balanced budget amendment and another to enact term limits for members of Congress. Wadsworth said that a balanced budget amendment would “provide us with an opportunity for a more fiscally responsible government.”

“Without a balanced budget, the U.S. Federal Government has irresponsibly run up a $20 trillion federal debt (much of which is owed to China), a deficit that continues to grow with no end in sight, a deficit that will continue to be a burden for our children and future generations,” wrote Wadsworth. “At what point will we act here in Maine? Do we wait until the National debt is $50 or $75 trillion in debt?”

Over the past several months Republicans in Congress have added $1.5 trillion to the deficit with a tax cut skewed to benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and another $300 billion in additional spending for the military and other programs. Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren), who voted against the balanced budget amendment, expressed concerns in testimony on Feb. 21 that a balanced budget could lead to higher taxes to balance the budget. “Before you pass this measure I ask that you consider the likelihood of it achieving its intended goal,” wrote Sutton. “I ask you if there is a chance it will be used to raise taxes on everyone with the excuse being we can’t cut spending, so we are forced to raise taxes.”

In testimony on the term limits resolution, the Virginia-based polling firm McLaughlin and Associates reported that 69 percent of Mainers it polled support term limits.

But Rep. Danny Martin (D-Sinclair) spoke against both Article V resolutions out of concern that it could lead to a “run-away convention,” which could end up being controlled by powerful special interests. Quoting former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger, he said, “There is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”

All of the midcoast Democrats in attendance voted against both resolutions. All of the midcoast Republicans in attendance supported both resolutions, with the exception of Reps. Sanderson and Sutton, who opposed the balanced budget amendment.

House & Senate Pass Needle Exchange Funding

The House and Senate have passed a measure (LD 1707) to fund syringe exchange programs in an effort to stop the spread of blood-borne illnesses like HIV and hepatitis C. The proposal would provide $75,000 for programs that allow intravenous drug users to exchange used needles for clean needles. Maine currently has six certified needle exchange programs — in Lewiston, Portland, Ellsworth, Augusta, Bangor and Machias — but none of them receive public funding. Health Equity Alliance Executive Director Kenney Miller told The Free Press in January that his organization has targeted the midcoast as a region in high need of a syringe exchange program, which would likely receive state funding if the bill goes into law.

Testifying in favor of the bill, Dr. Kinna Thakarar, an infectious disease specialist at Maine Medical Center, said that she has treated many patients with complications from injection drug use, including HIV, viral hepatitis, skin infections, and endocarditis, which is a heart infection. She said the hospital has found that endocarditis cases among people who inject drugs has increased by 61 percent over a three-year period in Portland and that the median cost of patients with the illness to insurance companies was $174,573 per patient.

“We know that people who inject drugs can substantially reduce their risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV and other infections by using clean needles and equipment,” said Thakarar. “The cost of a clean needle is cheap, less than a dollar, but the services provided by the needle exchange are invaluable. And if patients are ready to seek treatment for their substance use disorders, the programs are there to link them to services.”

The National Institutes of Health estimates that needle exchange programs have reduced HIV transmission rates by at least a third. A US Centers for Disease Control study flagged four Maine counties, including Waldo County, as being susceptible to an HIV outbreak on the level of the epidemic in Scott County, Indiana, where the number of HIV cases skyrocketed from an average of 5 per year to 190 in 2015 alone. Health experts attributed the rise in HIV cases to injection drug use and the lack of access to syringe exchange programs and testing services. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine’s rate of hepatitis C is three times the national average.

But testifying neither for nor against the bill, Maine Center for Disease Control Director Bruce Bates expressed skepticism that hepatitis C is really that much of a problem.

“While rates for hepatitis C in Maine are above the national rate, we do not view this as an emergency,” wrote Bates. “Maine does have hepatitis prevention, surveillance and testing programs in place, and all currently certified hypodermic apparatus exchanges provide HIV and HCV screening and referral services.”

However, the governor himself has recognized hepatitis C rates as a problem, but has instead, without evidence, blamed it on African immigrants.

LD 1707 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (99 Yeas, 40 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) X
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) X
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) Y
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Motion: Defeat the Bill
Senate (13 Yeas, 17 Nays)

Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

Republicans Fail to Cut the Minimum Wage

Republicans have yet again failed to reduce the new minimum wage, which was passed by referendum with the support of 56 percent of voters in 2016. The new minimum wage is currently $10 per hour and will gradually increase to $12 per hour by 2020. However, a number of small businesses from around the state, including local midcoast Subway franchisee Daniel Fortin of Rockport and Ryan Otis, owner of Rollie’s Bar and Grill in Belfast, argued in testimony before the Legislature that the minimum wage is too high. LD 1757 would have only increased the minimum wage to $10.50 by 2020 and then gradually increased it to $12 per hour in 2023. The bill also would have established a lower sub-minimum wage of $8 per hour for workers under 18 years of age.



Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) said the lower minimum wage will help farmers like herself to “save our children” from the opioid epidemic by teaching them job skills.

“Sadly at this point we’re pricing our businesses out of being able to hire students, which in turn takes away opportunities on our farms to instill a work ethic in these students,” said Kinney. “So in turn they turn to drugs. And I’m seeing it. I’ve been seeing it since my kids were in elementary school. I’d much rather them help us throw hay in the summer or walk my woods and help me find leaks in my tubing in my maple business this time of year.”

But speaking against the bill, Lincoln County resident Ranger Langdon said that lower wages have kept him and his 85-year-old father in poverty.

“The past two summers I worked 50 to 60 hours a week between two jobs with no benefits to pay back rent from the previous winter(s) because everything I earned at the time went directly towards the heat bill,” wrote Langdon. “My father’s Social Security, likewise, went towards basic living expenses. Neither one of us can afford to live alone. There is no safety net. There are no savings. The little money I had saved up until now paid for a new washing machine this Christmas. I’m crossing my fingers in hope that nothing else breaks this winter. I’m concerned about my father’s age, and worry about what I might need to do to take care of him…. This legislation is a step backwards. My generation needs hope. People need hope. We need to know that our votes mean something. Mainers voted in favor of raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour. We need to that know our representatives are listening.”

LD 1757 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
Motion: Defeat the Bill

House (75 Yeas, 70 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Motion: Pass the Bill
Senate (19 Yeas, 16 Nays):

Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

Legislature Overrides Veto of Cancer Screening Bill

Last week, the Legislature overrode Gov. LePage’s veto of a bill (LD 1476) that requires health insurance plans to provide coverage for cancer and sexually transmitted disease screenings, immunizations and preventative care for children and infants. The mandates are already in federal law, but the bill now enshrines them in state law in case the Affordable Care Act is repealed. In written testimony last April, Hope resident Jill Piggot said she learned she had Stage 1 breast cancer after she was able to take advantage of a free mammogram.

“I had no family history of the disease and was only 50,” wrote Piggot. “If I’d waited until I could feel a lump, I would’ve been faced with a very grim prognosis. Every day that I laid on the radiation table in Sanford, I felt very, very lucky to have caught my cancer so early, and I promised myself that l would do all I could to make sure women have access to free mammography. The ACA also provides $0 copays for the medication that helps prevent recurrence. These basic, lifesaving, preventative services ought to be part of every insurance plan sold in the state.”

According to the Maine Cancer Society, in 2017 an estimated 8,750 Mainers were diagnosed with cancer and 3,260 are predicted to die from the disease. The organization testified that patients diagnosed with early stage, localized colorectal cancer have a 90-percent chance of surviving five years, those diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer have a 90-percent chance of surviving five years or more, and those diagnosed with early stage breast cancer have a 99-percent chance of surviving five years or more. However, LePage said he vetoed the bill because he is against the bill because he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

“In passing this bill, the legislature decided to ignore our current challenges and worry about possible future policy issues, proving—yet again—that their priorities are misplaced,” wrote LePage. “I stand by my opposition to the Affordable Care Act. I will not sign into Maine law the same provisions that have made the Affordable Care Act a disaster at the federal level.”

LD 1476 Veto Override — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (115 Yeas, 34 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) Y
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (30 Yeas, 4 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

$45 Million Bath Iron Works Tax Break Passes

The Legislature has passed a controversial $45 million tax break to Bath Iron Works, which amounts to $3 million in tax incentives per year over the next 15 years. The measure requires the company to keep current employment levels and invest at least $200 million in the shipyard. The amended bill decreases the originally proposed tax break by $15 million, which would have renewed the 20-year, $60 million Shipbuilding Tax Credit enacted in 1997.

BIW argued that the company needs the tax breaks to stay competitive with the heavily subsidized Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. In testimony it noted that General Dynamics has invested $500 million in BIW since 1996 and that it has a payroll of $350 million a year. The members of Local S6 of the machinists’ union at BIW were split on LD 1781 so the union did not take a position on the measure.

Opponents of the bill noted that BIW’s parent company General Dynamics is the fifth largest defense contractor in the world with $31.3 billion in revenues in 2016. The Providence Journal reported last year that the company has spent $10.3 billion on stock buybacks to enrich its corporate executives since 2013. General Dynamics has been by far the largest recipient of corporate subsidies in Maine, collecting nearly $203 million from the state and from the City of Bath since 1995, according to the nonprofit Good Jobs First. BIW’s workforce has declined from 7,500 in 1997 to about 5,600 workers today. Following passage of the bill, BIW announced temporary layoffs of 31 employees.

Coming off a 37-day hunger strike in protest against the bill, peace activist Bruce Gagnon of Bath noted that opponents were at least able to carve $15 million off the original bill. Wrote Gagnon in his blog on April 1, “Keep the fires burning and always remember the most important job of a human being is to protect the future generations — our children, the animals, the plants, the waters, the air, the sacred lands.”

BIW Tax Break — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (117 Yeas, 31 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) N
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) N
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) Y
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) Y
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) N
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) Y
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) Y
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) N
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) Y
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) N
Senate (25 Yeas, 9 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

Anti-Food Shaming Bill Passes

The Maine House voted 83-64 and the Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill that would prohibit schools from “food shaming” students who can’t pay their school lunch bills. LD 1684 would require schools to provide a meal to every student regardless of their ability to pay for the meal or outstanding food bill. The bill would prohibit schools from openly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal or who has payments due for previous meals and it would require the school to communicate about the student’s meal debts directly to the parent or guardian rather than the student. The measure would also require school boards to establish policies for the collection of debts owed to the school lunch program.



The bill came in response to news reports, including a 2017 New York Times article, about the trend of schools shaming and humiliating students who can’t afford to pay for lunch. In one case, cafeteria workers in Pennsylvania threw a young girl’s lunch in the trash in front of the other students when a cashier discovered she had an unpaid food bill. In another case in Alabama, school employees stamped “I Need Lunch Money” on the arm of a child and a Utah elementary school threw away the lunches of about 40 students with unpaid food bills. A 2014 US Department of Agriculture report revealed that the practice is very common, with nearly half of all school districts using some form of shaming to force parents to pay bills.

“We can point the finger at parents and say, Why don't they act on their responsibility as the parental figure? Why don't they pay their school meal bills? But when they don't what is our solution?” said Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley in testimony supporting the bill. “Our solution can’t be shifting the pointed finger toward the child. We can’t tell a hungry child that because the parental unit is not responsible, we are going to deny him/her food.”

However, Rep. Phyllis Ginzler (R-Bridgeton) argued that the bill was “wrong-headed.”

“The way this bill is written, it restricts districts’ ability to address the mounting debt nearing $400,000 that is incurred by unpaid lunch bills,” said Ginzler in a floor speech. “And lastly, and I think very much most importantly, I believe that it seeks to shelter high school students from the reality that there is no free lunch that someone is on the hook for.”

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.

LD 1684 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (83 Yeas, 64 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) N
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) “Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y