Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The Legislature is back and so is the Morning Briefing.
It's been awhile, so let's get to it:
* What's your 20? Page 11 of the $925,000 taxpayer-funded contract to evaluate the state's public welfare system says that documents turned over to Department of Health and Human Services by the Alexander Group are public and subject to the Freedom of Access Act. The Medicaid feasibility portion of that study was due Dec. 1, but Alexander Group missed that deadline. Late in December Gov. Paul LePage told a group of reporters that he had seen the study -- in fact DHHS received it Dec. 16 -- and he would turn it over Jan. 6, or Monday.
It was assumed that the study would be turned over Monday, but by mid-afternoon Martins said he it wouldn't be released. He didn't say why. He didn't say when.
Last week, the department reserved the State House Welcome Center for a press event to be held Tuesday, presumably for the presentation of the Alexander Group study. On Monday, the event was moved to Friday. Then it disappeared from the State House calendar.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary, said Monday that there's was a new location for the presentation. She wouldn't confirm that the event was a presentation of the Alexander study. Asked when the study was coming, she said, "soon."
The administration has spurned numerous media inquiries and Freedom of Access Act requests, even though the law prohibits the state from withholding public documents without citing an exemption provision in the law, which the administration has not done.
There are a lot of political reasons why the LePage administration may want to release the study on its own terms, but experts on the state's open records law have said there's no legal justification to withhold the document. Meanwhile, LePage critics continue to cast doubt about the administration's motives for hiring Gary Alexander and his track record as the welfare director in Pennsylvania.
* Vote Cutler? The Democratic Governors Association is expected to be active in the 2014 gubernatorial race. It's shown an early presence with web ads and press releases attacking Gov. LePage.
The Republican Governors Association, which spent over $1 million to help LePage get elected in 2010, is also expected to be involved in 2014. In October, the group set up its Maine political action committee. Michael Adams is listed as the treasurer of the RGA Maine PAC.
Does Adams sound familiar?
It should for those who paid attention to the 2012 Maine U.S. Senate race. During that contest a Washington D.C. group called Maine Freedom began buying ads touting Democratic candidate Cynthia Dill and her progressive credentials. It seemed like an odd ad. And it was. The group paying for it was a Republican group. The idea was to promote Dill in an effort to cut into the support of independent candidate Angus King, the front-runner who was attracting progressive voters.
Clever strategy. Treasurer of Maine Freedom: Michael Adams, general counsel for the Republican Governors Association. Treasurer of the RGA Maine PAC: Adams, general counsel for the Republican Governors Association.
* Policy optics: The LePage administration's release Tuesday of data showing the misuse of EBT cards at smoke shops, bars, liquor stores and strip clubs is certain to stir some controversy.
The administration in 2012 adopted rules prohibiting the use of EBT cards at retail establishments where 50 percent or more of revenues are derived from liquor sales, a gambling facility or strip clubs. The administration says that change was a response to federal mandates. Sure enough there are guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that recommend such a policy change.
Now check out this piece from the feds:
"Please note that the federal law does not expressly prevent certain products from being purchased with TANF assistance via EBT transactions; rather it specifies locations where state policies and practices should prevent any transfer of TANF assistance via EBT transaction from occurring, regardless of the product being purchased. For example, the federal law does not require a state to prevent a recipient from buying beer at a grocery store, but it does require that a state implement policies and practices to prevent any purchase involving an electronic transfer of TANF cash assistance, even non-alcoholic items, from a liquor store."
Advocates for the poor have noted that the federal law doesn't prevent certain products from being purchased. But read that last bold sentence again.
Need the bureaucrat decoder? Here: Don't worry about the person using EBT cards to buy liquor or beer at a grocery store, but adopt laws to prevent buying ANYTHING with EBT cards at a store that happens to sell more liquor and beer than groceries.
Got it? Good.
* Expansion Part Trois: The Medicaid expansion odyssey ramps up Wednesday when the Maine People's Alliance, a liberal activist group, will hold a press conference in the Hall of Flags.
The group says that more than a dozen Mainers who lost their health care coverage on Jan. 1., or who would be newly eligible for coverage if the state expanded Medicaid, will talk about their experiences.
Maine People's Alliance executive director Jesse Graham said in a press statement, "These people deserve to be heard. They deserve better than to be made to suffer a cynical prioritization of extreme politics over real people."
The public hearing for the Medicaid expansion bill is week from Wednesday, so there will likely be several more press events like this between now and then.
This post has been corrected to note that John Martins did not confirm that the Alexander report would be released Monday, only that it wouldn't be. I regret the error - S.M.
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.