Monday May 20, 2013 | 02:09 PM

WASHINGTON – Scandals over the IRS, Benghazi and freedom of the press will likely continue to simmer in Washington this week. But with members of Congress off next week for their Memorial Day recess, lawmakers are expected to try to push a few things forward before Friday.

Here are a few of the things happening in Congress and in DC this week that have Maine ties or are likely to be of interest to Maine residents:

Immigration and same-sex couples

The Senate Judiciary Committee will continue vetting more than 200 amendments to the bipartisan “Gang of 8” immigration reform proposal, which seeks to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the country already.

One of the big questions as of Monday morning was whether committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would attempt to amend the bill in committee to allow a U.S. citizen to sponsor his or her same-sex partner for a green card. While gay rights groups and some Democrats are pushing hard to include the provision in the bigger bill, conservative Republicans are warning that it could sink the entire measure.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins is lead co-sponsor with Leahy on a stand-alone bill to accomplish the same thing. Collins is regarded by the gay and lesbian community as one of their strongest Republican allies in Congress. And even though she has never publicly endorsed same-sex marriage, Collins has argued that same-sex couples who are legally married in other countries should be treated the same as traditional couples when it comes to immigration.

Leahy could wait to introduce his amendment on the Senate floor, but the 60-vote threshold likely means it would not pass. Collins has not said whether she is urging Leahy to introduce the amendment in committee or in the full Senate but it’s a safe bet that the two senators have talked it over.

Those valuable little elvers

Maine’s baby eel or elver fishery is once again big business in the state, with the little translucent eels fetching $2,000 a pound or more at times.

Maine’s tightly regulated elver fishing season opened with a splash when the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Passamaquoddy Tribe clashed over the issue of how many licenses the tribe could issue.

Those tensions appear to have subsided somewhat, but the 2013 season is still being closely watched by many – including federal regulators. (For more coverage of the elver issue, click here or here).

Later this week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will likely discuss the events in Maine – one of only two states to allow elver fishing – as it considers potential new rules governing how the baby eels are harvested. Federal officials will also update the commission on the status of a review to consider whether to add the American eel to the list of endangered species.

Ruth Moore Act

The House was slated to vote Monday evening on a bill – the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 – to help veterans who were sexually assaulted while serving in the military to qualify for disability benefits. The vote was postponed, but it could still come up later this week.

The bill is sponsored by Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, and is named for veteran and Milbridge resident Ruth Moore, herself a survivor of “military sexual trauma.” Pingree has asked the Obama administration to implement the changes at the VA without a legislative fix. And The Associated Press reported that the VA has softened its previous opposition to the bill and now supports the goal of the legislation.

Disclosure: Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share holder of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

Other national issues:

  • Farm Bill: The Senate will consider a new five-year, $955 billion farm bill, which I wrote about here. Senators will consider lots of amendments, likely including some sponsored by Maine Sens. Angus King or Susan Collins.
  • Keystone XL: The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a Republican-driven bill that would essentially go over the head of the White House and permit construction of the northern section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Presidential nominations: The Senate is expected to take up a few of President Obama’s nominations for Cabinet or other high-profile posts. If Democrats choose to push some of the more controversial nominees – such as Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency – Republicans could seek to block the votes, triggering more discussion about whether the recent filibuster reform agreement is working.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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