Tuesday April 02, 2013 | 09:58 AM

Moving parts: A bill that would expand publicly funded health insurance for low-income Mainers will get its public hearing in the Legislature's Human Services Committee Tuesday afternoon.

LD 1066, sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, is the bill that directs the state to participate in the federal health care law's program to expand Medicaid. The hearing will likely feature a long line of testimony from advocacy groups supporting a program that the Kaiser Family Health Foundation says will provide health insurance for an additional 55,000 Mainers.

Maine's hospitals are the players to watch in this debate. The Maine Hospital Association, the group representing Maine's 39 hospitals, said last week that its members were backing expansion, but it would be surprising if the group gave an enthusiastic endorsement during Tuesday's public hearing. MHA has been measured in its approach to this issue, likely because it wants to make sure that legislative leaders and Gov. Paul LePage come together on a plan repay the $484 million in backlogged Medicaid reimbursement owed to its members. 

That MHA came out publicly for Medicaid expansion could be a sign that the two sides are drawing closer to plan that would use a new liquor contract to repay the hospital debt. Until the two sides nail down an agreement, don't expect the hospitals to do much more than offer tepid support for Medicaid expansion. 

Minimum wage, maximum debate: The Senate is expected to take up the bill that would raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016. The proposal has already received preliminary approval in the House with Democrats passing the measure on a party line vote.

The Senate debate will likely feature the same arguments that already took place during a two-hour floor debate in the House.

Democrats argue that the wage must be increased to meet the rising cost of goods and increase the earning and purchasing power of low-income Americans to help lift them into the middle class. Republicans have opposed the effort both nationally and in Maine, saying such measures are well-intentioned, but ineffective at reducing poverty and potentially harmful to small-business owners. 

The entire exercise may seem futile given that Republicans are unlikely to break ranks to override a likely LePage veto. 

So what's the point?

For starters, raising the minimum wage seems to be pretty popular among the general public.  A USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll conducted in early March found that 71 percent of Americans support Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage. 

Even if the bill stops at LePage's desk, Democrats may feel they'll win for trying.

That same line of thinking may be why Democratic leaders are drawing attention to two tax bills that are destined for a similar dead-end fate. One measure, LD 455, increases the earned income tax credit for middle- and lower-income families, the other, LD 65, is a Republican bill that would decrease taxes on investment income.

Both tax bills are expected to be debated in the House Tuesday morning.  

No tan lines: No word yet when Democratic leaders will run the bill that would prohibit anyone younger than 18 from using a tanning booth at a salon or similar business.

The proposal has already passed the House, but it wasn't on the business calendars for the House or Senate on Tuesday.

It could still appear as a supplement in the Senate, but that may depend on how long the minimum wage debate goes.

Veto watch: The governor has 16 new bills on his desk to either sign, veto or become law without his signature, according to the office of House Speaker Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

Non-political item 1: If you're not reading The Boston Globe spotlight series on the inner workings of the city's taxi cab industry, you're missing out.

Cab drivers paying to work; the cab company kingpin who leverages the city's high-valued medallions over employees and as collateral on lines of credit.

That's just the beginning. 

Crazy, captivating stuff. 

Non-political item 2: Who has an 18-wheeler, false documents and a hankering for 21 tons of Wisconsin cheese? This guy:

"An Illinois man accused of stealing 21 tons of Wisconsin cheese has been arrested in New Jersey.

New Jersey authorities say Veniamin Konstantinovich Balika, 34, from south suburban Plainfield was arrested Tuesday afternoon.

New Jersey State Police Lt. Stephen Jones said Wednesday the man was driving a refrigerated truck carrying 42,000 pounds of Muenster cheese. Jones says the cheese company, K&K Cheese in Cashton, Wis., valued the cargo at $200,000."

H/T NBC-Chicago.

 

 

 

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Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.

Steve can be reached at 791-6345 or smistler@pressherald.com.
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