AUGUSTA – Interest groups like nothing better than to draw large crowds to the State House and today — Valentine’s Day — will be no exception.

Two years ago, gay-rights activists used Cupid’s holiday to hand out Valentines to legislators in hopes of gaining support for a gay-marriage bill. Today, dozens of groups will descend on the State House to profess their love for Maine’s environment.

“Please act now and join others next Monday to share stories about how much you value environmental protection and why it is so important to you, your family, your health, your business, our local economy and the Maine way of life,” reads an action alert posted on Maine Environmental News.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine has asked business leaders to attend a noon news conference in the Hall of Flags to ask legislators to “adopt five criteria for ensuring a strong economy, good jobs, and a clean and healthy environment.”

Groups such as Friends of Casco Bay, the Maine Council of Churches, Maine Women’s Lobby, Learning Disabilities Association of Maine and others are listed as co-sponsors of today’s news conference.

Many people are expected to testify before a legislative panel holding a public hearing on LD 1, a bill sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and House Speaker Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, that seeks to reduce regulations to create a more business-friendly climate. The hearing begins at 9 a.m.

While lawmakers are looking to compile their own set of suggestions, the environmental groups expected to show up today will protest a list of more than 60 proposals rolled out by Gov. Paul LePage a few weeks ago. The proposals seek to open more of the North Woods to development, reverse chemical bans enacted by the previous Legislature, and repeal laws that require manufacturers to take back recyclable goods for disposal.

SNOW DAYS PART III

State workers apparently don’t like LePage’s new policy about closing state government during snowstorms.

LePage expects state workers to get to work just like employees in the private sector, LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt explained.

Demeritt in January famously summed up his boss’s policy with the quip: “The rule of thumb is: If Marden’s is open, Maine is open.”

Demeritt said employees can stay home if they want, but they shouldn’t expect taxpayers to pay their salaries if they aren’t at work.

“People need to make decisions for themselves,” Demeritt said. “If they don’t feel comfortable driving, they can take a vacation day.”

When a governor closes state offices, employees get paid when they stay home.

The Maine State Employees Association is now asking members to fill out a survey about the governor’s new storm policy. The survey is on the union’s Web site, www.mseaseiu.org.

The survey asks employees whether they have been required to come to work when traveling was dangerous, if they have used vacation time to stay at home and whether they have been involved in any accidents on their commute.

NEW ADVISER TO LEPAGE

Carlisle McLean, a Preti Flaherty lawyer, has been added to LePage’s inner circle as a policy adviser on the environment, the governor’s office announced Friday.

“Carlie has a key understanding of environmental law and we expect her to bring a great deal of knowledge in this area to the administration,” LePage said in a statement.

A Bates College graduate, McLean has handled energy and development permits, Land Use Regulation Commission permits, and has worked with Superfund settlements in New England and nationally, according to the governor’s office.

She’ll start her new job next Monday.

LEPAGE CALLS OUT BECK

It’s no secret that LePage likes to stray from his prepared remarks while speaking.

But in the House chamber last week, during his budget address, LePage directly addressed a sitting member of the Legislature — former Waterville City Council colleague Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville — who was smiling during his remarks.

At the time, LePage was explaining that he felt handcuffed by federal health reforms that didn’t allow him to make the kind of changes he’d like to make to the Medicaid program. He said Maine was being “punished” for offering generous coverage.

“I see the former councilor in Waterville with a big smile on his face,” LePage said. “Yes, Henry, I’m sorry to say, we are being punished.”

Beck was mum after LePage’s unusual break in decorum, but did admit to smiling while in the House chamber.

BISHOP HONORS LAWMAKERS

Bishop Richard Malone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland honored lawmakers last week at a reception at Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta.

While the event gave the bishop the chance to thank lawmakers, he also wanted to share his thoughts on “issues of the day,” according to the diocese.

Among his 2011 legislative priorities are a state budget that protects the poor and sick, efforts to improve health care and legislation that supports marriage and family.

INSOMNIACS TAKE NOTE

The Bureau of the Budget has posted the state budget online at www.maine.gov/budget/.

And, if you’re really in desperate need of sleep, the proposed highway budget is posted there, too.

Legislative leaders have not yet set firm dates for public hearings on the budget, but they are likely to begin in late February or early March. 

State House Reporters Susan Cover and Tom Bell contributed to this report.