The Coastal Packet

Thursday, May 25

King on GOP healthcare bill: Devastating

Beacon - The health care repeal bill passed in the House with the support of Maine Second-District Congressman Bruce Poliquin would be devastating for older Mainers, especially in rural areas. At the Bangor Public Library on Monday, Senator Angus King and AARP Maine hosted a roundtable discussion on what the law would mean for Maine and what can be done to stop it.

The discussion focused in particular on the impact of a provision of the American Health Care Act  that the AARP has dubbed the age tax, which would allow insurance companies to charge Americans ages 50 to 64 up to five times more than they charge others.

“As we heard today, this bill is going to dramatically increase health care costs for older people in rural Maine, which means many of them will no longer be able to afford insurance and have to risk going without it,” said King. “I don’t think that’s right, and I am going to continue fighting in the Senate for these folks and urge my colleagues to make meaningful improvements to the Affordable Care Act rather than abandoning it altogether – because if we abandon the ACA, then we abandoning good people across Maine.”

Wednesday, May 24

Ranked choice voting status

Maine Clean Elections - The court’s opinion is just that, not a ruling, but an opinion. RCV is still the law of the land, but the court has now made it clear that if an actual RCV challenge came forward, they believe it would be struck down. The risk of moving forward with the RCV law for state offices may throw some of the results of the 2018 elections into question. In their opinion, the court lays out how the legislature could rectify the situation by either: 1) advancing a state constitutional amendment or 2) repealing the portion of the law that conflicts with their opinion.

State Senator Cathy Breen (D – Falmouth) has indicated that she will introduce a state constitutional amendment. To advance this resolve at this point in the session, the Legislative Council, the governing group of House and Senate party leaders, would need to grant the bill special permission to move forward. From there, the House and Senate would need to pass the measure by a 2/3 vote in both chambers before it is sent to referendum in November, where it would require a majority vote at the polls. There appears to be very little support among Republican leaders or rank-and-file members for RCV, making it unlikely that Sen. Breen’s bill will make it through Legislative Council, let alone gain the necessary votes on the House or Senate floor.

With an amendment strategy all but doomed, it seems likely there will be efforts to repeal all or part of the RCV law during the final few weeks of legislative session. RCV advocates, including MCCE, The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, the League of Women Voters of Maine, and FairVote, are committed to preserving as much of the law that voters passed as possible. We firmly believe that those portions of the law not affected by the court ruling should still stand, most notably those pertaining to federal races.

Other municipalities that have RCV, including Portland (ME), have some races run under RCV, while others follow the “pick one” method of voting. In Portland and many other cities, voters and election administrators have been able to navigate and successfully hold elections in this manner. It’s important lawmakers in Augusta hear from the voters ASAP – that this law passed by the second highest vote total in the history of Maine ballot initiatives and we voters want to retain as much of the law as possible. We urge our senators and representatives to resist repealing the people’s will wholesale.

The future of ranked choice votring

Tuesday, May 23

Maine Supreme Court kills ranked choice voting

Press-Herald - Maine’s highest court found Tuesday that the ranked choice voting system passed at referendum last November violates the Maine constitution.

In its advisory opinion, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court acknowledges the validity of citizen-initiative ballot questions but notes that even citizen-enacted laws can be unconstitutional. Related Headlines

“The object must always be to “ascertain the will of the people,” the court notes. “Nonetheless, when a statute – including on enacted by citizen initiative – conflicts with a constitutional provision, the Constitution prevails…”

At least one lawmaker said they would now work to put a constitutional amendment before voters, which would require a two-thirds support in the state legislature.

Gulf of Maine warming will harm key fish species

Press Herald - A new study by federal fisheries scientists predicts the warming of the Gulf of Maine will cause a dramatic contraction of suitably cool habitat for a range of key commercial fish species there. On the other hand, lobsters are more likely to find hospitable areas.

The results confirmed previous research using other models and methods that found that the Gulf of Maine can be expected to become increasingly uncomfortable for many of the cold-loving species that have thrived here for all of recorded history but are at the southern ends of their ranges. Those include cod, haddock, redfish, plaice and pollock.

Monday, May 22

New Portland group seeks to curb rent rises and evictions

Portland Press Herald - A new citizens group is organizing to demand a referendum in Portland to curb rising rents and mass evictions in Maine’s largest city.

The rent control effort, or “rent stabilization” as the group calls it, is being pursued by a new group of Portlanders called Resurgam, which was formed after the last presidential election as a way to become engaged in the local community, said member Bre Chamberlain. residents, not council, would OK zoning changes

Another proposed referendum would give residents more say in the rezoning process in Portland.

A developer would need the approval of neighborhood residents before getting a zone change, according to documents provided by the city. Currently, those decisions are made by the Planning Board after receiving a staff recommendation and listening to public comment.

The ordinance would prevent a zone change from being enacted if 25 percent of residents living within 500 feet sign a document opposing the change. However, a developer could overcome that obstacle by getting a majority of residents living within 100 feet of the site to sign a document in support within a 45-day period.

Westbrook Street resident Mary Davis, an attorney and organizer, said she expects to receive the petitions from City Hall on Friday. The group will have 80 days to collect about 1,500 signatures from registered voters to put the ordinance on the November ballot.

The referendum could affect an effort to rezone the 45-acre Camelot Farm, on Westbrook Street, to allow for more single-family houses. But Davis said people throughout the city are involved in the referendum effort.

West End residents are currently fighting a proposal to rezone the Western Waterfront to allow for taller buildings. Rezoning along the Eastern Waterfront has been controversial for some Munjoy Hill residents, as was a rezoning in Deering Center.

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They’re calling the campaign Fair Rent Portland and hope to limit annual rent increases in larger buildings and ban no-cause evictions, among other things.

“We need to make sure the workforce that helps make Portland so wonderful and desirable are actually able to live in the city they work in,” Chamberlain said.

Portland is experiencing a boom in construction of high-end and market-rate housing that is often unaffordable to students, artists and people who work in the city’s large service industry. Meanwhile, high demand for housing has pushed up rents for some existing apartments, with some landlords using no-cause evictions to empty units so they can be improved and fetch higher rents.

A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis showed that rents in Portland increased 40 percent from 2010 to 2015. The rapid increase, most dramatic in the Munjoy Hill area, happened at the same time incomes were declining for the average renter in Portland.