Maine: Legislative Update from Senator Brownie Carson

055f8802-f9b5-4c09-aeef-4b7bf95f5b54.jpgDear friends and constituents,

The legislative session is well underway, with approximately 700 of the anticipated 2,000 bills now printed and ready for committee review. Just as bills began arriving at my two committees, we paused to hold confirmation hearings for the governor’s nominees to lead the Department of Education (Pender Makin, former assistant superintendent of the Brunswick School Department) and Department of Environmental Protection (Jerry Reid, director of the natural resources section of the attorney general’s office).

Before the hearings, I met with both nominees, discussed their work histories and reasons for wanting to serve in these cabinet posts, and spoke with colleagues who had worked with them. Both came highly recommended, with extensive experience in their respective fields. Ms. Makin’s hearing was short and without controversy; she was quickly confirmed. Mr. Reid’s was long and, at times, difficult, because of his participation in litigation on water quality and Native American sustenance fishing rights. These issues have decades of history in Maine legislation and courts and more than two hundred years of history in federal legislation, treaties, and the federal courts. After dozens of citizens testified, and Mr. Reid stated his commitment to working directly with the tribes to resolve these issues, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee voted unanimously to confirm his appointment.

Both of these nominees received my full support. Ms. Makin has dedicated her professional life to working in and advocating for quality public education. She has taught students who are “hard to reach,” and she came to Brunswick after her tenure as principal of The Real School in Falmouth. She was honored as Principal of the Year several years ago. She is equally committed to special education, gifted and talented programs, and technical education. She will also invest in and improve early childhood education.

Mr. Reid has served in the attorney general’s office since finishing law school nearly 25 years ago. In the natural resources section, he enforced Maine’s clean air and clean water laws; he fought to clean up the mercury contamination at the former Holtrachem site on the Penobscot River at Orrington; he advised the Board of Environmental Protection on the terms of environmental licenses for large scale developments; and he helped coordinate multi-state defense of both national and state environmental standards against efforts to weaken protection by the Trump administration.  He knows the issues and problems that DEP will need to address in the years ahead and is prepared to take on the environmental challenges Maine will face.

Both of the committees on which I serve will have substantial workloads. In ENR, we just reviewed a proposed new rule that would allow replacement and expansion of oil and gasoline storage facilities (including gas stations) over drinking water aquifers. In my view, we must protect these aquifers – no question. But, with outdated technology and older tanks, ought we consider allowing new, larger tanks with the best, most updated technology? We will work this bill very carefully.

In the Education Committee, we recently heard extensive testimony about the need for increased state investment in the cost of health insurance for retired teachers. Retirement benefits are often modest, and the cost of health insurance continues to rise. Teacher retirement pays a much smaller share of this cost than does the Maine State Retirement System. If we are going to attract and retain talented teachers for our schools, I believe we must increase this investment. We will also see bills on expanding early childhood education, improving science/technology curricula, mental health education, and more – and even a proposal to ban certain books.

One final note on a legislative issue that goes back to 2017: you may remember that I was lead sponsor of LD 1108, An Act to Restore Public Health Nursing Services. This law was enacted over then Gov. LePage’s veto, and it became effective in October 2017. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), under the previous administration, continued to resist rebuilding Maine’s public health nursing service. Last July, I sued DHHS, simply asking that the court order the department to follow the law. While that litigation is still pending, I have started talks with the Mills Administration and envision resolving this dispute with an agreement that we will fully restore this vital public service. More very soon, I hope!

If you would like to comment on these or any other issues, I can be reached at Brownie.Carson@legislature.maine.gov and my office phone is (207) 287-1515. Please allow some time for a response, as our agenda is packed.

Thank you for the honor of representing you.

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