AUGUSTA – Maine’s congressional delegation has embraced the idea of “mixed” seating for Tuesday’s State of the Union speech by President Obama.

Typically, the annual speech is made by the president to lawmakers who sit in the House of Representatives divided by political party. But in the wake of the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., many lawmakers wish to mingle with members of the other party as a show of bipartisanship.

Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe is expected to sit next to Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana. Sen. Susan Collins, also a Maine Republican, has said she will sit with Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Snowe and Landrieu serve together on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, where Landrieu is the chair and Snowe is the ranking Republican. Collins worked closely with Cantwell most recently on climate change legislation, and Pryor serves on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs with Collins, who is the committee’s top Republican.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, plans to sit with members of her bipartisan softball team, which includes Giffords, although she will not be able to attend.

A Pingree spokesman said she will sit near Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Jean Schmidt of Ohio.

Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, does not have formal plans to sit with any particular person yet, according to a spokesman.

“But he is likely to seek out someone, for example, such as U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, who he works closely with on issues like promoting fair international trade policies,” said Ed Gilman, Michaud’s spokesman.

SNOW DAYS, PART II

The Maine State Employees Association shot back at Gov. Paul LePage after comments from his spokesman last week regarding the new administration’s policy on state snow days.

Dan Demeritt told MaineToday Media: “The rule of thumb is: If Marden’s is open, Maine is open.”

But, as the MSEA points out, on Jan. 12 some Marden’s stores in southern Maine closed at noon, while the state government stayed open until 3 p.m.

“It’s one thing to characterize a storm day policy with a sound-bite quip,” the MSEA statement said. “It’s another thing to actually develop, post and distribute a process or policy that protects the health and safety of all Maine people.”

COST OF JUSTICE

The pay of Maine’s trial judges ranks 47th in the nation, according to Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley.

When cost of living is included, Maine is 50th, according to a report by the National Center for State Courts.

“We’re at the bottom of the heap,” said Saufley, who provided a brief overview of Maine’s judiciary system to members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee last week.

Maine trial judges earn about $112,000 a year, compared with $138,000 a year earned by their counterparts in New Hampshire. Maine Supreme Judicial Court justices earn annual salaries of about $119,000, versus about $146,000 a year in New Hampshire.

The pay is set by the three-person Judicial Compensation Commission. The governor, House speaker and Senate president each pick a member for the commission, and they provide a review of judicial pay to the Legislature.

“I expect the Legislature will hear from the new commission once it’s reconstituted, probably before the end of this session,” Saufley said.

THE CLOTHESPIN METHOD

The Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee has instituted a new policy to help the chairs recognize members who have questions.

Each lawmaker has a wooden clothespin attached to the bottom of his or her microphone. When they want to talk, they move the clothespin to the top of the microphone to signal the chair.

The method seemed to work well last week — until Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, apparently moved his clothespin to the top one too many times.

House Chairman Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, suggested that McCabe finish questioning conservation commissioner nominee Bill Beardsley “privately.”

But later, Edgecomb changed his mind and decided to let McCabe and the rest of the Democrats get all of their questions answered in public.

TREASURER’S BLOG

Treasurer Bruce Poliquin has launched a blog to keep the public up to date on how he’s working to “save taxpayer money and help build a more prosperous Maine.”

Poliquin, who ran in the GOP gubernatorial primary, was sworn in as treasurer earlier this month. He will host a news conference this week to talk about state debt and the state’s pension fund liability.

You can check out his blog at www.maine.gov/treasurer/outreach/blog.shtml.

LAWMAKERS TO TOUR STATE

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform will begin traveling the state today to get feedback from business owners. Here’s their schedule:

Today: 1-4 p.m., Northern Maine Community College, Presque Isle

Wednesday: 3-6 p.m., University of Maine Hutchinson Center, Belfast

Jan. 31: 1-4 p.m., University of Maine at Machias

Feb. 2: 3-6 p.m., Eastern Maine Community College, Bangor

Feb. 3: 3-6 p.m., Central Maine Community College, Auburn

Feb. 7: 3-6 p.m., Sanford Town Hall

Feb. 9: 3-6 p.m., Southern Maine Community College, South Portland

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Public hearings will be held today through Wednesday on LePage’s budget for the rest of this fiscal year.

John Morris, LePage’s nominee to lead the Department of Public Safety, will have his confirmation hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee at 10 a.m. today.

Darryl Brown, the nominee to lead the Department of Environmental Protection, will have his confirmation hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. 

MaineToday Media State House writers Rebekah Metzler and Susan M. Cover contributed to this report.