You can’t just feed any old bait to Maine’s lobsters.

A bill working its way toward the governor’s desk to be signed into law would require that any fish or other baits that are not a natural part of a lobster’s diet be approved before they’re lowered into Maine waters.

The Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee unanimously endorsed the bill and it reached the House floor last week. It is expected to be approved by both the House and Senate.

The search for new lobster baits has gone on for decades, but it intensified in recent years as shortages of herring, the bait of choice for lobsters and lobstermen, grew more acute. Lobster bait may seem like a lowly topic for the Legislature, but it’s a big problem, considering Maine’s $300-million-a-year lobster industry uses 100,000 metric tons of bait each year.

“Our officers are seeing a lot more stuff” used as bait, said Col. Joseph Fessenden, head of the Maine Marine Patrol. “This bill, if it passes, should give us some ability to prohibit some stuff that shouldn’t be used.”

Maine already has some laws against baiting traps with unwanted “stuff,” such as the hides of deer, moose and other animals. The issue there was more a concern about public perception than any threat to lobsters, which tend to eat most anything. There is an exception for a hairless, rawhide type of bait.

Lately, lobstermen and bait dealers have turned to using freshwater fish, such as Asian carp that are invading the Great Lakes region.

“As it turned out this carp from the Great Lakes has this type of disease that would not be good for the coast of Maine,” Fessenden said.

New diseases could be a problem for lots of ocean residents, though none are more important to the coastal economy than Maine’s signature seafood.

L.D. 1609, sponsored by lobsterman-legislator Rep. Ron Parry, R-Arundel, says that no freshwater species can be used as bait unless proven safe and approved by the Department of Marine Fisheries. Baits found naturally in the ocean are OK, unless they are identified later as unsafe. Animal parts remain off limits.

Love, marriage and pink slip

A man fired from the state Bureau of Insurance two years ago because he married a woman who worked for an insurance company has won back his job with back pay.

An arbitrator late last month overturned the dismissal of Michael Nadeau, who had worked for the state for 13 years.

Nadeau was an examiner in the bureau in 2005 when he was assigned to audit an insurance company. While there, he met a woman and told his boss that he might want to date her. His boss told him not to begin a relationship while he was conducting the audit and, according to the arbitrator’s ruling, Nadeau did as he was told and waited until the exam was over before contacting her.

Fast-forward to January 2008, when Nadeau returned to work wearing a wedding ring. The office held a little party to celebrate his marriage to the insurance company manager he met in 2005.

But things changed a few months later when his supervisor instructed him to conduct another audit at the company.

Nadeau refused, saying it would be a conflict of interest for him to examine the company where his wife works. His boss insisted, which prompted Nadeau to write to some higher ups to seek advice.

The matter got referred to the Attorney General’s Office, which ruled that state law prohibited employees of the bureau from having “a connection” — in this case a marriage — with insurance company management.

He was fired.

An arbitrator ruled Jan. 26 that the state did not have grounds to fire Nadeau simply because he got married.

Arbitrator Joseph M. Daly wrote that there was no evidence that “the bureau considered any alternatives to termination, in terms of assignment of duties,” nor did it show that the state “made sufficient efforts to make sure it was right.”

Fighting sniffles and meth labs

There may soon be new limits on buying cold medicine in Maine under a bill moving through the Legislature.

However, you won’t notice unless you want to buy a whole lot of it.

The Health and Human Services Committee is discussing a bill to tighten limits on the sale of pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed, Zyrtec D, Caritin D and other common medicines.

That’s because large quantities of the medicines can be used to cook methamphetamine, or meth. The illegal drug, a crystalline powder that’s typically snorted or injected, is a powerful and addictive stimulant.

Cooking it also creates hazardous waste, which costs the state thousands of dollars each time a lab is found.

People who cook the illegal drug using cold medicine need a lot of little pills.

“These people who have these meth labs get a bunch of friends … and they go store to store and buy the (pills),” said Rep. Alexander Willette, R-Mapleton, the bill’s sponsor.

Meth is a big problem in many western states. In Maine, police agencies find about five meth labs a year, and since Dec. 29 have dismantled one lab in Presque Isle and another in Lebanon.

“Currently, the meth threat in Maine is low. We want to keep it that way,” said Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and a supporter of the bill.

Maine already requires pharmacies to keep medicines containing pseudoephedrine behind the counter, check customer identifications and limit purchasers to three packages per transaction.

Willette’s bill — L.D. 1714 — would establish an online sales tracking system so pharmacies would know if a customer just bought the same cold medicine at another store. An individual would only be allowed to buy 3.6 grams per day and 9 grams in 30 days.

That’s plenty of medicine if you’ve got a cold –3.6 grams is about 70 adult doses, depending on the brand.

But, it’s not so much if you are trying to supply a meth lab.

The new tracking system would be paid for by the pharmaceutical industry, which also supports Willette’s bill.

The Health and Human Services Committee is expected to discuss the proposal Wednesday.

Burns says good-bye

Rep. David Burns, R-Alfred, thanked his former colleagues in a resignation letter posted in the House calendar last week.

Burns resigned Tuesday and is expected to face criminal charges from the attorney general’s office this week.

“It is with great regret that I inform you that I will be stepping down as the state representative for House District 138 immediately based on the AG’s decision to move forward and seek an indictment on my alleged ethics charges,” he wrote.

“I wish to thank you for your understanding and compassion as well as that of all leadership and my fellow legislators from the onset of the investigation. I have truly enjoyed serving this great state and only hope for continued success and prosperity as time moves forward.”

In November, the ethics commission found that Burns committed seven violations of state law with regard to the use of Clean Election money, including using the money for personal purposes, filing false documents, and reporting expenditures that never occurred.

Right to work?

State House observers are still waiting to hear whether legislators will move forward with L.D. 309, the so-called public sector right-to-work bill.

The bill was proposed last year by Rep. Tom Winsor , R-Norway, and supported by Gov. Paul LePage. It would eliminate the requirement that all state workers pay at least a portion of union dues. A public hearing drew hundreds to the State House last year and was followed by a suspense-filled work session that ended with no vote. The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee delayed action at the last minute, saying it needed more information.

Labor leaders say the bill is still on the back burner because Republicans don’t have the votes to pass it.

Officially, committee chairman Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, said he’s waiting for leadership to tell him when or whether to take a vote on the bill.

Meanwhile, the Maine Heritage Policy Center recently released a report that they say shows right-to-work states have stronger economies than other states.

That’s certainly the hope in Indiana, where legislators and the Republican governor recently voted to become the 23rd right-to-work state in the country.

The bill currently under consideration in Maine would affect only public sector workers. A private-sector bill was killed last year.

Will a vote come up this year in Maine? Stay tuned.

East/west highway resurfaces

Folks in central Maine will be interested to know that the idea of building an east/west highway through the middle part of the state has been revived in the Legislature.

Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, is sponsoring L.D. 1671, which calls for a feasibility study of the idea, which has been around in one form or another for decades. Thomas wants the public to come to the Transportation Committee at 1 p.m. Feb. 14 for a public hearing on the bill.

“The path this highway takes across Maine is through some of the poorest parts of our state,” he said in a press release.

“The good-paying construction and maintenance jobs will provide work for many families who desperately need the opportunities and the improved transportation for both business and tourism will be an even further boon to an area that hasn’t had a lot of good economic news in decades.”

On the radio

State House Reporter Susan Cover will be on NewsRadio 560 WGAN at 8:08 a.m. today to talk about what’s going on at the State House.

John Richardson — 791-6324

[email protected]

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.