Thursday, April 17, 2014
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.
It's not every day that the ambassador of Liechtenstein -- her name is Claudia Fritsche -- writes a letter to the Maine Legislature to weigh in on a bill.
But it happened March 4, when Fritsche urged state lawmakers to vote down L.D. 1120, a bill that would prohibit multinational corporations from using so-called offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes in Maine. Democrats in the House voted to approve the bill on Tuesday.
Lawmakers also received a letter from Jean-Louis Wolzfeld, Luxembourg's ambassador to the U.S., opposing the bill.
Both countries are among more than two dozens jurisdictions identified as tax havens in L.D. 1120. In their letters to the lawmakers, Fritsche and Wolzfeld explained why such a designation unfairly blacklisted the two countries and what the impact would be if the bill is enacted.
Reposting this story with some of the context that was cut in order to fit the story in the newspaper. Click here for for the abbreviated version. - S.M.
A last-minute amendment backed by the National Rifle Association threatens to derail a bipartisan bill to overhaul the state’s concealed-weapon permit law, in a move criticized as election-year sabotage.
The bill would create a central, confidential permitting system and allow Maine State Police to conduct criminal and mental health background checks. It was drafted during more than a year of meetings by interested groups, including law enforcement, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the NRA.
On Thursday, the bill received early approval in the House, with an 82-54 vote that fell mostly along party lines. A majority of Republicans voted against the bill and instead backed a late amendment, supported by the NRA, that would defeat the purpose of the bill by allowing gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, a practice gun rights advocates refer to as “constitutional carry.”
Wednesday whirlwind: With April 16 adjournment fast approaching, the Legislature is ramping up its activities. Paper is moving. Votes are being taken. Everyone wants to go home.
Wednesday marks another double session day, as the House and Senate convene to take additional votes on a variety of proposals, including a proposal that would suspend state grants for Maine call centers that outsource more than 30 percent of its call volume to a foreign country. That bill, like many others at the end of the session, is partisan, meaning it's likely going to be vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. However, it could become part of the legislative elections (Democrats say the bill is designed to ensure Maine call centers hire Mainers, while Republicans are saying it will kill the call center industry in Maine).
With the budget for the current fiscal year completed, contentious measures like the call center bill will dominate the final days of the session. Expect a lot of vigorous floor debates, party-line votes and vetoes.
Defection: It's hard to find a Democrat who thinks the nearly $1 million contract for the Alexander Group was a good idea. However, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, that would nullify the taxpayer-funded study of the state's welfare system is not holding the usually unified Democratic House caucus together.
Gov. Paul LePage on Monday reiterated his support for health commissioner Mary Mayhew, calling her a "superstar" in his administration.
LePage's comments were delivered during a press conference to unveil his slate of welfare reform bills. Mayhew has been under fire amid a series of rolling controversies at the DHHS and the Maine Center for Disease Control. Five CDC officials were recently subpoenaed by the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee to explain the destruction of documents used to justify $4.7 million in public health grants. Meanwhile, a whistleblower lawsuit has been filed by Sharon Leahy-Lind, a former employee of the CDC, against director Sheila Pinette and two other officials.
Since then LePage and Mayhew have been under fire for not making leadership changes at the CDC and refusing to publicly condemn actions that have now been corroborated in sworn testimony. LePage said Monday that the court case prohibited Mayhew from commenting on the CDC controversy.
"There's an ongoing investigation and trial between a former employee and the Department of Health Human Services," he said. "It's totally inappropriate, if not illegal, for the commissioner to go out there try a case in public. I ask you all to respect the laws of the state of Maine. Frankly, she can't do anything about it."
Gov. Paul LePage has recently made several public statements in which he's accused his political foes of spreading falsehoods.
Now, as the governor ramps up his reelection bid, he wants the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to investigate erroneous campaign claims if a candidate for statewide office files a complaint. LePage has submitted an after deadline bill that order the ethics panel to review claims and "make public declarations regarding statements determined to be false."
According to the bill, such false statements could relate to a number of issues, a candidate's education background, military service or voting record. The bill includes a provision mandating the Ethics Commission to make its declaration if a campaign or political action committee publishes or distributes a false statement either knowingly or with "reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."
In other words, the Ethics Commission could become very busy if the governor's bill passes. Claims of false campaign statements are nearly a daily occurrence during an election year. Newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald, have deployed fact-checkers to review ads for false and misleading statements. The governor's proposal would make this a function of the Ethics Commission.