The Coastal Packet

Friday, August 18

Nestle sued over character of its Maine water

Bangor Daily News - A group of bottled water drinkers has brought a class action lawsuit against the company behind Poland Spring, alleging that the Maine business has long deceived consumers by mislabeling common groundwater.

The civil suit was brought by 11 people from the Northeast who collectively spent thousands of dollars on Poland Spring brand water in recent years. It is seeking millions of dollars in damages for a nationwide class and appears to hinge on whether the sources of Poland Spring water meet the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of a spring.

The suit comes as the company, a subsidiary of the Swiss food giant Nestle, is looking to expand its operations in Maine.

LePage accually said this. . .

NY Post - Maine’s Republican governor likened the removal of Confederate statues across the country to tearing down monuments to those who died in the terror attacks on Sept. 11.

“To me, it’s just like going to New York City right now and taking down the monument of those who perished in 9/11. It will come to that,” Gov. Paul LePage told Maine radio station WGAN-AM in an interview Thursday.

Thursday, August 17

Poland Springs to grab over 2 billion gallons of Maine water

MainePublic Broadcasting - The Rumford Water District has signed a deal with Poland Spring Water Co., that will allow it to draw up to 150 million gallons of water per year for 15 years, from two district wells.

But Water District Superintendant Brian Gagnon says, under the deal, the town's needs will come first. "We come first, and we're holding an amount of up to a million gallons a day that would be used for the townspeople."

Gagnon says in addition to estimated $200,000 to $300,000 in revenues a year from the sale of the water to Poland Spring, Rumford will also get just over $1 million from the company over the next four years, to use as it sees fit.

Mt. Desert towns rebel against cruse shiip damage to lobstering

Tuesday, August 15

A school where students work as well as study

Maine Public Broadcasting - For most kids, school is a focus on those three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. But more and more, educators are trying to teach students skills they’ll need on the job, too, such as work ethic and teamwork. At one coastal Maine school, that curriculum includes real work.

On a small plot of land behind the Harpswell Coastal Academy, sixth-grader Easton Dundore scoops shovelfuls of mulch into a small hoop house he helped design to grow vegetables. Dundore says he spends most school days out here, working with three or four other students.

“So this project is mostly for like, team building and career development. And communication,” he says. “I feel like it’s good hands-on work. I feel like that connects to my brain and helps me learn better. I think if I was inside writing papers about career development, it would almost be a little less effective than being out here, doing this, with other people.”

Maine state worker would get pay raise if they give up union right

Press Herald - Negotiators for the largest state employees union have agreed to a new two-year contract that would increase wages by 6 percent while also giving Republican Gov. Paul LePage a long-sought victory in his effort to eliminate mandatory union fees for workers in jobs represented by unions.

Under the contract, which will go out to members of the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989, for a ratification vote on Aug. 30, state workers who choose not to join the union would not have to pay the fees that are collected to cover the union’s cost of collective bargaining and other services, including lobbying the Legislature.

Monday, August 14

How the Department of Health and Human Services has failed Mainers

Plan afoot to restrict prisoner visits

Sun Journal - Motivated at least in part by a desire to keep drugs out of the hands of prisoners, the state is eyeing a proposal that would eliminate a requirement that inmates in county jails have access to contact visits. Share Sun Journal file photo

Joseph Jackson, coordinator of Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said Monday the move would bar prisoners — even those who haven’t been convicted — from giving a child a hug or holding a spouse’s hand.

He called the proposal “a giant step backward” and harmful to the goal of getting people back on track.

“They are attempting to take away human touch and the ability of inmates to see their loved ones in person,” Jackson said.

The new policy proposal, which runs counter to a move in the Legislature to expand visitation options, would provide for “video only” visits that often cost the family money.

8 Democrats running for governor

WCSH - Progressive organizer and former state Rep. Diane Russell is now one of eight Democratic candidates for Maine governor.

Russell has called for the Democratic Party to eliminate superdelegates and backed presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The rest of the field includes veteran and attorney Adam Cote of Springvale, progressive lobbyist and activist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell, former state Sen. Jim Boyle of Gorham and retired Coast Guard commander and health care CEO Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta

Saturday, August 12

Maine health insurers plan much higher charges

Press Herald - Maine’s top insurance regulator plans to approve double-digit rate increases for all three of the state’s providers of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The increases for 2018 would be approved if the rate requests were revised to amounts slightly lower than the health insurers requested, said Eric Cioppa, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Insurance, in written orders posted to the bureau’s website. Cioppa said he would approve revised increases of 27.1 percent for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, 17.5 percent for Maine Community Health Options and 18.8 percent for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Mainers to consider Medicaid expansion this fall

WCSH - A question on the Nov. 7 ballot would expand Medicaid for adults under 65 — for a single person who earns below $16,000 and for a family of two less than $22,000. Liberal groups and health care providers say that roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers could access health care including drug treatment as overdose deaths rise.

Wednesday, August 9

Mayhew leads Collins

Maine Pubic Broadcasting - A telephone survey earlier this month by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling shows Republican Mary Mayhew leading Sen. Susan Collins by more than 10 points in a head-to-head race for the Republican nomination for governor. Several Maine political scientists say the poll points out a problem for Collins, but warn that it's still very early in the game – if there’s a “game” at all. There are any number of reasons to be wary of early polls. First, the primary is not until next June, and Collins has not actually said that she will run. That has not lessened interest in the race for governor that's already spawned 11 announced candidates. In addition to Mayhew, there are six Democrats, two Greens, an independent, and a Libertarian.

For once, LePage is right

WCSH -  In a letter delivered to House members Tuesday, Governor LePage slammed representatives for voting into law a new legal age to purchase tobacco. "Quite simply, you are hypocrites," LePage writes. "You agree to try them as adults in a court of law; you ask them to vote for you in our elections.... and you allow them to smoke 'medical' marijuana. But now you say they cannot decide for themselves whether they want to buy cigarettes."

The new age to purchase tobacco is 21. Later on in the letter, he acknowledges the dangers of smoking to a person's health. "I would never encourage anyone of any age to smoke cigarettes. However, you can't have it both ways."

Saturday, August 5

LePage making it harder for Mainers to get Medicaid

Maine Public Broadcasting - People who receive MaineCare — the state’s version of Medicaid — may soon have to work and pay monthly premiums in order to get benefits. Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services officially filed an application this week to the federal government to make those changes. Critics say Maine’s plan would erect barriers to health care that will drive up costs for everyone. If DHHS’s waiver application is approved, people who receive MaineCare would be required to work 20 hours a week, pay monthly premiums and chip in $10 if they go to an emergency department for a non-emergency issue.

Rent control headed for Portland ballot

Maine Public Broadcasting - Fair Rent Portland, a Portland rent reform group, says it has enough signatures to put a rent control ordinance on the Portland City ballot this fall. The proposed ordinance would cap the amount that certain landlords could increase their rent each year, and includes other renter protections.

Maine lobstermen unionize

Maine Public Broadcasting - Maine lobstermen have long been known as a fiercely independent lot. But some are looking to the power of unity, in the form of a statewide, catch-to-table co-op. The goal is to harvest a larger and more predictable share of the profits.

Friday, August 4

The financial affects of Maine Care cuts

Maine Center for Economic Policy - Last year, half of Maine’s hospitals ran an operating deficit. According to figures from the Maine Health Data Organization, two thirds of Maine’s hospitals have just one month’s cash on hand (or less). Why is this important for Mainers? Not only are hospitals the primary providers of health care in the state, they are also the largest employers in nearly every county. For years, the Maine Hospital Association has warned about the financial strain on our hospitals, leading some to begin laying off staff, or shutting down entire departments. The major cause of this crisis is Governor LePage’s decision to not only refuse to expand Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act, but to restrict Medicaid eligibility in Maine (known as Maine Care) – driving up the number of uninsured Mainers.

Uninsured patients are much more likely to be unable to pay for medical treatment, and leave hospitals with charity care costs or bad debt that they eventually write off. Data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, which maintains a database of state-by-state hospital inpatient admissions, show that Maine’s hospitals are seeing an increasing share of patients who have no insurance coverage whatsoever; a trend that coincides with a decline in the share of Maine Care admissions. 

How LePage damaged Maine's healthcare

From closing school-based health centers to dismantling public health partnerships to eliminating public health nurses to stymieing opioid treatment to cutting Medicaid to refusing or misusing federal funding, the LePage administration has systematically degraded Maine’s health care systems. Among the results are skyrocketing overdose deaths and increasing infant mortality. A Maine Beacon podcast on this topic

Thursday, August 3

Legislature fails to override LePage veto of solar bill

Natural Resources Council of Maine - The Maine House of Representatives voted to sustain Governor LePage’s veto of the solar bill, despite the fact that the bill passed the House and Senate initially by more than a two-thirds super majority. Seven Republican legislators changed their position from their prior support and today voted to sustain LePage’s veto of the measure. The Senate voted 28-6 to override and the House voted 88-48, falling three votes short of two-thirds.

“Today, too many lawmakers turned their back on jobs of the future for Maine and bowed to pressure from the Governor's office, Central Maine Power, Emera, and other utility and fossil fuel industry groups from across the nation,” says Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “They failed to support the small businesses that are struggling to create and sustain jobs from Kittery to Fort Kent, and they ignored the need and desire to transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources.

“At the strong urging of the governor, lawmakers today voted to raise electric bills, deny Mainers good jobs, generate more pollution, stall Maine’s transition to clean energy, and make it harder for Maine people and businesses to generate their own solar power.

“This vote allows the Public Utilities Commission to begin its extreme, nationally unprecedented new tax on self-consumption of power. That’s a bitter pill for a state whose forest products industry has long depended on the right to consume the power they produce without penalty, and bad news for a state trying to catch up on a revolutionary technology that allows every home and business to affordably produce their own power, too."

Thursday, July 27

Funding for school health centers killed

Press Herald - Roughly two dozen school-based student health centers in Maine lost their state funding this week because the state’s recent budget deal required the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate $5 million in funding for the centers and other programs.

“I don’t know when I’ve been any more upset with a decision that’s been made in state government,” said Calais School District Superintendent Ron Jenkins, whose center lost $46,200 in funding. About 80 percent of middle and high school students in the district are signed up to use the center, which provides medical and dental care, suicide prevention and drug and alcohol prevention services.

Tuesday, July 25

Portland grabs farmland for gentrification

Press Herald -The Portland City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to rezone 45 acres of open space on outer Westbrook Street to allow a developer to build nearly 100 single-family homes, while preserving 25 acres of recreational open space for public use.

The project would trigger the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, which would set aside about eight or nine units of workforce housing, which would be affordable to people making up to 120 percent of the area median income. In this case, a four bedroom house would sell for over $300,000, but that would be affordable to a family with an income of nearly $100,000, planning staff said.

“We must leverage our moment to max our impact on the affordable housing crisis,” Strimling said. “On this one, I just don’t feel like we got there.”

Coastal Packet - A much wiser approach for Portland would be to redefine the relationship between Portland and other Maine cities and surrounding rural areas. Maine has the opportunity to create a new, more environmentally conscious relationship between urban and rural, but this is a lousy way to start. 

Monday, July 24

Mishandling Maine youths in trouble

Maine ACLU - A report released by the Maine Department of Corrections in January shows that more than three quarters of youth in their custody are there for low-level, non-felony offenses. 85 percent of them have three or more co-occurring mental health diagnoses, and 42 percent were sent directly from a residential treatment facility. Contrary to the claims of DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards, the vast majority of kids incarcerated at Maine’s Long Creek Youth Development Center are not in prison merely “because they committed a crime.” They’re there because Maine has neglected to get them the services they need, and, in the words of Assistant District Attorney Christine Thibeault, “the only place that can’t refuse to take [them] is Long Creek.”

Multiple systems of government have failed the children who end up at Long Creek: the education system, the court system, and, of course, our health and social services system. The ACLU of Maine has talked a lot about the failures of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) here, here and here. But DHHS continues to deny that it has any part in the crisis at Long Creek, stymieing everyone else’s efforts to get kids the help they need.

While DHHS doesn’t seem to see a role for itself, we’ve come up with a short list of items that the department could undertake immediately:
  • Fund community mental health options along a continuum of acuity so kids can get help in their own communities, at the level of care appropriate for their particular needs;
  • Hold the residential care facilities licensed by DHHS accountable, so that the facilities stop calling the police for incidents that are a result of mental health or developmental skill deficits;
  • And, for the kids who are currently locked up, find beds and services that are more developmentally and mentally appropriate for adolescents than prison.

Friday, July 21

Lewiston and Bates College students aren't hitting it off

Portland mayor wants more low income housing in developments

Press Herald  Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling wants to require developers in the city to include more low-income housing in their projects.

Strimling announced Wednesday a proposal to raise the percentage of low-income housing to be included in large residential projects to 20 percent, as well as lower the income eligibility requirements for tenants seeking access to those units.

The city already has a nearly two-year-old ordinance requiring new developments with at least 10 housing units to set aside 10 percent of those units for low-income tenants, and the mayor’s proposal would amend that.

Thursday, July 20

Maine forms Socialist Party

Press Herald Socialist Party of Maine held its founding convention at the Viles Arboretum, during which they unified the Socialist Party of Eastern Maine and the Socialist Party of Southern Maine into a statewide party and started to map out strategies for running for office.

“Because we believe in democratic socialism, we take both the democratic and the socialism very seriously,” said Tom MacMillan, one of the organizers of Sunday’s event. Democratic socialism means putting people in communities in control of their lives, he said.

“In their workplaces that means promoting worker-owned cooperatives. That’s a good example. Democracy at work, democracy at the ballot box and democracy in society. We think that regular people can control their lives better than their bosses can or by the owners of big companies. If factories are owned by their workers, they are not going to be sending jobs overseas, because that’s their jobs. They (are) not going to be displacing themselves.”

Tuesday, July 18

Print media monopoly increases in Maine

Press Herald -  The owner of the Portland Press Herald is buying Sun Media Group, the company that publishes Lewiston’s Sun Journal and a host of weekly newspapers.

Reade Brower of Camden has entered into an agreement for an undisclosed price with the Costello family, which has operated the company that publishes the Sun Journal since the 1890s. The sale to Reade Brower of Camden will end more than a century of Costello family ownership of Lewiston newspapers.

The sale dramatically expands Brower’s holdings, bringing many of Maine’s newspapers, including most of its dailies, under his ownership.

GOP proposes budget that will increase poverty and deaths

Press Herald - House Republicans unveiled a 10-year budget blueprint that would dramatically increase military spending while putting the Republican Party on record favoring Medicare cuts opposed by President Trump.

The Republican plan, authored by Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., would also pave the way for overhauling the U.S. tax code this fall, and would pair that effort with cuts to benefit programs such as food stamps.

Medicare is the second largest mandatory program after Social Security, and the House Republican plan again proposes to turn Medicare into a voucher-like program in which future retirees would receive a fixed benefit to purchase health insurance on the open market.

The plan, in theory at least, promises to balance the budget through unprecedented and unworkable cuts across the budget. It calls for turning this year’s projected $700 billion or so deficit into a tiny $9 billion surplus by 2027. It would do so by slashing $5.4 trillion over the coming decade, including almost $500 billion from Medicare, $1.5 trillion from Medicaid and the Obama health law, along with enormous cuts to benefits such as federal employee pensions, food stamps, and tax credits for the working poor.

Monday, July 17

Maine Socialists re-organize

Ballot Access - The Socialist Party now has a state organization in Maine. See this story. The last time any nominee of the Socialist Party was on the ballot in Maine was 1952. Back then Maine only required 1,000 signatures for a statewide independent or the statewide nominee of an unqualified party.

Sunday, July 16

New Maine voter registration data

Ballot Access - The Maine Secretary of State has released new registration data as of June 2017. The percentages: Democratic 31.89%; Republican 26.92%; Green 4.23%; Libertarian .52%; independent and other 36.43%.

GOP healthkill act would be especiall bad for rural Mainers

Beacon -US Senate Republicans are still pushing to pass their latest version of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, despite analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and others that shows that the Better Care Reconciliation Act would cause tens of millions of Americans to lose access to health care. MECEP’s own report details the effect on Mainers, including the loss of health insurance for more than 100,000 Mainers, and a significant decline in the economy, as measured by Gross State Product. A deeper dive into the numbers reveals that these effects would be felt across the state, but would be especially devastating for rural Maine, where insurance is more expensive, access to care is already limited, and where hospitals are the largest employers in many communities.

Saturday, July 15

Portland mayor-city manager feud heats up

Press Herald - The ongoing feud between Portland City Manager Jon Jennings and Mayor Ethan Strimling boiled over Friday, the two trading accusations of lying and blocking access to city employees.

Wednesday, July 12

Maine is only the sixth most native state

Maine has a wealth of jokes about people from away but according to this analysis, the state is only sixth in terms of percent of native born residents. 64% of Maine residents were born here while Louisiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all have percentages over 70%.

Saturday, July 8

Great thoughts of Paul LePage

Paul LePage characterized the Maine media as “vile,” ”inaccurate” and “useless.” He says “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”

Friday, July 7

LePage admits he lies

Salon - Maine Gov. Paul LePage has made a career of making controversial statements — and this latest one is surprising, even by his standards. On an interview Thursday with WGAN radio, the blustery Republican said he lies to the press in order to call them out on “fake news.”

“I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they’ll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful,” he said, perhaps with a hint of sarcasm.

Thursday, July 6

Maine's public schools ge $162 million in budget

Press Herald - Maine’s 240 public school systems will soon learn how they will share $162 million in new educational funding in the two-year state budget signed by Gov. Paul LePage early Tuesday. The budget, which resolved a partisan stalemate and ended a three-day government shutdown, will provide an additional $48.4 million to school systems in 2018 and another $113.6 million in 2019. But how much districts receive depends on whether they choose to collaborate with other districts. The budget also aims to send more funding to poorer districts and allow districts to tap a fund for unexpected special education costs that arise during a budget cycle.

Monday, July 3

Maine won't hand over records to vote commission

Sun Journal - The state won’t comply with a request to hand over voter registration information to President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Attorney General Janet Mills determined Monday that the state couldn’t provide the data without violating its own laws protecting voter privacy. “Maine citizens can be confident that our office will not release any data that is protected under Maine law, to the commission or any other requesting entity,” Dunlap said in a prepared statement.

Trump wants to kill heating aid that has helped 77,000 Mainers

Press - Herald - President Trump has proposed eliminating heating aid for low-income Americans, claiming it’s no longer necessary and rife with fraud. People needn’t worry about being left in the cold, he says, because utilities cannot cut off customers in the dead of winter.

But he is wrong on all counts.

The heating program provides a critical lifeline ... and officials close to the program don’t see any widespread fraud. Guidelines for winter shutoffs by utilities vary from state to state and don’t apply to heating oil, a key energy source in the brittle New England winter.

The proposal to kill the program, which has distributed $3.4 billion to about 6 million households this fiscal year, will face strong opposition in Congress.

In Maine, the poorest state in New England, the program helped nearly 77,000 people over the past winter, and those numbers represented less than a quarter of eligible households, said Deborah Turcotte of MaineHousing, which helps to run the program.

Sunday, July 2

Portland condemns apartment for police visits, forcing landlord to evict tenants

Press Herald - Portland officials have condemned an apartment building in East Bayside because of frequent police visits, forcing the landlord to evict all of his tenants until he fulfills his court-ordered obligations to tighten up management of the property.

It’s the first time the city has taken such an extreme measure to get a landlord to address issues under its disorderly houses ordinance – a designation that’s given to a building based on the number of police visits in a 30-day period.

Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people, received a temporary restraining order against the city to prevent the evictions of three tenants until a court hearing next month.

Saturday, July 1

Partial state government shut down

Reuters - Part of the state government in Maine was shuttered on Saturday after lawmakers were unable to send a two-year budget to the liking of Republican Paul LePage, who promised the shutdown if he sent a fiscal plan that did not include spending cuts.

The governor's order for a partial shutdown of non-essential government services went into effect at 12:01 a.m. local time after a bipartisan effort in the state legislature failed to send a $7.055 billion two-year budget that included no new taxes to the second-term Republican.

The proposed budget repealed a measure that voters approved in November to impose an additional 3 percent income tax on state residents who earn more than $200,000 a year. The proposed budget also increases public education funding by $162 million.

The state Republican-controlled Senate passed the proposed budget with a 34-1 vote, but the Democrat-controlled House failed to reach the required two-thirds vote later in the day, leading to no budget measure being sent to the governor.

Thursday, June 29

Nearly 118,000 Mainers would lose healthcare on GOP bill

MPBM - Progressive health care activists are expressing concern about Mainers they say will lose health insurance if the Senate health care bill is passed. “This bill would cause 22 million Americans to lose their coverage, including 117,900 right here in Maine,” says family medicine Dr. Cathleen London of Milbridge, who spoke during a teleconference organized by the Center for American Progress. London and other critics of the GOP bill say it does not preserve as much coverage as the Affordable Care Act, and that the Senate should reject it. She says many self-employed workers in Washington County, including lobstermen and blueberry farmers, rely on Medicaid as their sole option for health insurance.

Maine rural roads, bridges in poor condition

MPBN - A new report focusing on rural roadways finds almost one 1 of 5 in Maine in poor condition and around 1 in 6 rural bridges to be structurally deficient. The report was prepared by the Washington-based group TRIP, which represents insurers, road builders, transport companies and workers. “Worn out pavements, oftentimes cracking or rutting of those pavements, there can be potholes, but as a motorist, what you’re feeling is a rough ride and certainly that’s beating up your vehicle,” says TRIP’s Rocky Moretti, asked what they categorize as a road in “poor” condition. Moretti says it has been estimated the country, as a whole, needs to be spending 50 percent more a year on road construction in order to bring roads and bridges into good shape and keep them there.

Ranked choice voting still law in Maine

Portland Press Herald - A voter-approved law making Maine the first state in the nation to used ranked-choice voting for statewide elections will stay in effect until at least next year after two legislative efforts to repeal it were unsuccessful.

The Legislature was attempting to respond to a May advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that found the parts of the law that applied to races for the governor’s office and Legislature were unconstitutional.

A House bill would have left ranked-choice voting in state primary elections and those for Maine’s congressional seats, but not for legislative and gubernatorial races unless the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting and state voters ratified it.

The Senate version, which had Republican and Democratic support, would have repealed the ballot law completely.

Under Maine’s current voting system, candidates who get the most votes win are declared winners, even if they receive less than 50 percent of the vote in a race with three or more contestants.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

Living in RVs in Silicon Valley

What will happen if Maine government shuts down