A group of Republican lawmakers from central Maine have proposed legislation that would allow the state to send Maine prisoners to correctional facilities in other states, drawing the ire of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

The coalition says it will oppose the measure, sponsored by state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, and warned that the measure could lead to the building of a private, for-profit prison in Maine.

“This new legislation is sweeping and meets the terms of the deal that Corrections Corporation of America demands — to move Maine prisoners to other states — before it will build a prison in Maine,” said Judy Garvey, co-director of M-PAC, in a press release.

Local officials in Milo have sought to have CCA build a prison in recent years, though an attempt by former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, to pass a measure allowing the transfer of Maine prisoners out-of-state failed.

Thomas told WABI-TV in February he supports the effort on economic development grounds.

“We desperately need jobs; the unemployment rate is high in Milo. We do have some opportunity but the underemployment in Milo how many $18 jobs are there in all of Piscataquis County? Very few, not enough that’s for sure,” Thomas had said to the television station.

“Many families already find it difficult to make the long treks to some of Maine’s prisons and fear if their loved ones are taken out of Maine, they might not ever be able to visit them,” Garvey said in the release. Members of the coalition also said they were concerned about the transparency and accountability in private prisons.

Gov. Paul LePage, in statements made when he announced Joe Ponte as his selection to lead the Maine Department of Corrections, said he would oppose privatizing Maine’s state prison system,

“My administration has absolutely no interest or intent of privatizing the current state system,” he had said. “The only thing that I would ever do and contemplate is if a private sector prison company wanted to come to Maine and build a prison and pay taxes and house out-of-state prisoners, I may consider that.”

Ponte used to work for CCA.

A public hearing on the bill has yet to be scheduled.

Much ado about nothing

The pair of measures aimed at increasing the amount of marijuana one could possess without facing criminal charges were unanimously rejected by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last week.

The proposals would have allowed people in possession of up to six plants or five ounces of usable marijuana face only civil penalties. Maine already has the second highest limit for decriminalized possession in the country, at 2.5 ounces. The legislation died despite bipartisan support and dozens of supporters that turned out for a lengthy public hearing, though law enforcement groups did offer unified opposition.

Vacation reading list

The Maine People’s Alliance, the left-leaning group that often challenges LePage on various issues, released a list of suggested reading to LePage on Friday, one day before he was scheduled to fly out for a one-week Jamaican vacation.

Longfellow Books in Portland offered to ship the books to LePage for free.

“Perhaps spending a little time relaxing on the beach reading up on conflict resolution, labor history and environmental science will change the governor’s attitude and tone,” said Chris Bowe, bookstore co-owner and a member of the Maine Small Business Coalition.

Three of the books on the list of eight are:

“Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carson; “Mural Painting Secrets for Success” by Gary Lord and “Awake at Work: 35 Practical Buddhist Principles for Discovering Clarity and Balance in the Midst of Work’s Chaos” by Michael Carroll.

Florida visit

LePage made a quick trip to Florida last week to visit the state Legislature, fellow Republican Gov. Rick Scott and to speak to a group of Republican students at Florida State University, his press office confirmed.

LePage paid for the trip himself because he was not on official state business, said his Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett.

National Guard bill

Rep. Aaron Libby, R-North Waterboro, is sponsoring L.D. 1305, which would require the governor to withhold Maine National Guard troops from being deployed unless the country is invaded, there’s an insurrection or unless Congress makes a declaration of war.

Libby said the United States has been involved in a lot of wars since WW II, even though that was the last time Congress issued a declaration.

“There have been a lot of conflicts since then that cost lives and billions and trillions of dollars,” he said.

Libby, a freshman, said he may offer a few tweaks to the bill in response to feedback from a few people. It’s headed to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for a public hearing that has yet to be scheduled.

Mural poetry

The NYR Blog on The New York Review of Books website had a post last week by Garry Wills called “The Art Destroyers.”

In it, he challenged his readers to write their own poetry about the situation in Maine involving LePage’s decision to remove a mural at the Department of Labor.

Here are samples of two of the submissions from readers posted on the site:

Posted by Andrewsward46

“Down with the pundits, the eggheads and sages.

Viva Governor Paul LePages!

Why memorialize unions and workers,

Or, as he calls them, gangsters and shirkers?

After all, they’re (sic) time is long, long past.

The only labor we know is cutting your grass,

And trimming your edges,

Blowing your leaves,

and pruning your hedges.

For the work we do can’t be exported

(Though some of us certainly can be deported.)

Waiters aren’t workers and neither are teachers,

And those who think so are just overreachers.

Why should we look back on strikes and fights,

And romanticize something like workers’ rights?”

There was this, posted by Hal:

“You’ll find that in governing Maine,

LePage took great care to explain,

I’ll do a small favor

for those who don’t labor,

to ensure they’ll not see it again.

Said the truculent leader of Maine,

as he ordered the walls be stripped plain,

Though the mural’s exquisite

to those likely to visit

It is not to those who abstain.”

Susan Cover and Rebekah Metzler contributed to this report.

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