Maine: Legislative Update from Senator Brownie Carson

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Dear friends and constituents,

On Monday, Feb. 11, I gathered with my colleagues in the State Senate and House as Governor Janet Mills delivered her State of the Budget address. I’m pleased to see the governor has prioritized health care, education funding and property tax relief.

The governor’s proposal is a good first step in our budget negotiation process. I look forward to working with my colleagues and other experts from around the state to craft a biennial spending plan that is responsible, smart, and puts the needs of hardworking Mainers first. And I still want to hear from you. If you haven’t reached out to my office already about your concerns or priorities, please don’t hesitate to do so. The more we know about what our constituents want, the better prepared we will be as we go through the budget process.

I’m happy to report that one of my bills, LD 68, “An Act To Improve the Record Keeping of the Public Utilities Commission,” was approved by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee (EUT). This bill addresses a problem brought to my attention by a constituent. It turns out that while the PUC is a specialized court for utilities, it does not always keep permanent records of cases that come before it. LD 68 changes that. EUT held a public hearing on the bill, then a work session, and recommended the bill be passed by the full Legislature. I hope my colleagues in the House and Senate pass this bill and Gov. Mills signs it into law.

I’m also working on LD 698, “An Act to Authorize Maine Courts to Award Attorney’s Fees and Costs to Citizens Who Prevail in Civil Litigation against the Executive Branch.” This bill goes back to my lawsuit against the LePage administration when the executive branch refused to hire public health nurses. This bill will help hold the executive branch accountable to the people. There will be a public hearing on this bill next week.

Finally, an important bill we’ll be considering soon is LD 798, “An Act To Protect Maine Children and Students from Preventable Diseases by Repealing Certain Exemptions from the Laws Governing Immunization Requirements.” This bill would remove religious and philosophical exemptions to the requirement that children be vaccinated to attend public school. After hearing from many of you and researching this issue thoroughly, I would like to take a moment to discuss why I support this bill.

As it is for many people, this issue is personal for me. Our granddaughter was diagnosed with ALL Leukemia in March of her kindergarten year. She was hospitalized for several weeks, and started chemotherapy. When discharged, we were careful about where we took her because of her suppressed immune system. There was whooping cough around at that time, and a relatively high rate of un-immunized children at her school. Our pediatrician gave us information to read, and advised against sending her to school. We followed the doctor’s advice. She has fully recovered, and we are grateful.

Low vaccination rates put kids like my granddaughter and other vulnerable people at risk. People who are immunosuppressed due to transplants or chemotherapy are put at higher risk for contracting deadly diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chicken pox, tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

Currently, there is an outbreak of measles in Washington state. As of February 21, there were 65 confirmed cases, many of which are people who had not been immunized. Measles can be deadly and is very contagious – someone who has not been vaccinated has a 90% chance of catching measles just by being near someone who has it. In 2017, Maine had its first case of reported measles in two decades. When the rate of immunization falls below a certain level, there is greater risk to all people.

One of the best resources I have found for information about contagious diseases and vaccinations is the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital: https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/resources. It has useful flyers about different diseases.If you would like to comment on this or any other issue, 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.

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.