AUGUSTA — The House will be the chamber to watch this week as leadership in both parties count noses in advance of votes on the budget.

The emergency legislation to close a $120 million immediate shortfall at the Department of Health and Human Services needs 101 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate for passage. Those in the know say the Senate will deliver.

The House is where things are less certain.

Conservatives such as Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, have heartburn over the continuation of a tax on paid insurance claims that supports Dirigo Health. The tax was supposed to be gradually reduced, but the Appropriations Committee froze the assessment at its current level because it needed the money. Also, Davis said, the committee didn’t go far enough to reduce the number of people on MaineCare, particularly the childless adults.

Davis said he’ll make up his mind on how to vote after a Republican caucus scheduled for later today. That will be a key meeting to show whether the majority party can deliver enough votes — probably right around 70 — to get it passed. The GOP has 77 Republican House members, but at least one is expected to be absent due to illness.

Democrats are assuming they’ll have to deliver at least 30 votes in support, out of their 72 members. It’s important to note Democrats are not thrilled with the budget either because it does call for 14,000 parents to lose their health insurance Oct. 1 and for the insurance for childless adults to be phased out over time.

Votes are expected in the House midweek, according to the speaker’s office. From there, it will bounce back and forth a few times before it lands on the desk of Gov. Paul LePage, who has made it clear he doesn’t like the budget.

Will he veto it?

That may be the most interesting part of the week to come.

Gang bill gone

Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, took the unusual step of asking a legislative committee to kill her own bill last week.

Volk was the lead sponsor of L.D. 1707, “An Act to Define, Prevent and Suppress Gang Activity in the State,” which was labeled as emergency legislation. The emergency preamble said “in order to protect children and society, it is necessary that this legislation take effect as soon as possible.”

However, after a public hearing where a motorcycle group, criminal defense lawyers, the ACLU and others criticized the bill, it became clear there wasn’t a need for new legislation. Critics said it was too severe, duplicative, and would encourage racial profiling.

And members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard from law enforcement that while this may be an emerging problem in southern Maine, it’s not a statewide issue. Training on gangs — both motorcycle and street — was already scheduled to be part of police academy training.

In light of that, Volk apologized to the committee for not doing “as much due diligence” as she should have before introducing the bill.

“It was kind of a rookie bill on my part,” said Volk, who was first elected in 2010.

Highway critics here Tuesday

Those who are opposed to a new east-west highway through Maine will be at the State House Tuesday for a noontime rally outside the State House.

“Defending Water for Life in Maine” is opposed to the highway for several reasons, including its belief that the highway will be primarily used by Canadians to cut through the state and that it jeopardizes wetlands, rivers and old growth forest.

The group timed its rally to start before a 1 p.m. public hearing on L.D. 1671, which seeks to put some state money toward a feasibility study of the highway idea.

A race to watch?

A Friday email from the GOP to supporters indicates that Tuesday’s race to fill a vacant Senate seat may be closer than expected.

Voters in Senate District 20 will be asked to choose between Democrat Christopher Johnson and Republican Rep. Dana Dow.

Although Dow, a seasoned lawmaker who has served in both the House and Senate, has been considered the frontrunner, it appeared the Republicans were a bit worried on Friday.

They sent out an email asking for volunteers to help with a Saturday literature drop.

“The Democrats have once again rallied the unions to represent Chris Johnson in the district through ground efforts,” the GOP wrote. “The Johnson Campaign has focused on launching a major assault on our Governor through convincing voters that Governor LePage is a bully who is playing childish games. Dana needs each of you to help secure our best interest’s by electing him to the Senate.”

The winner will bring the Senate back up to full strength with 35 members, following the late December resignation of Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, who left to take a job with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Regardless of which candidate wins, the balance of power in the Senate won’t change. But the winner will have a natural advantage heading into the November election.

The district covers 19 towns in Lincoln County, Friendship and Washington in Knox County, and the Kennebec County town of Windsor.

Libby to speak Thursday

Maj. Gen. Bill Libby will address a joint session of the Legislature Thursday, his first address to the House and Senate since he was appointed in 2004.

Libby, who has been commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management under two governors, is expected to update lawmakers on military matters. He’s also going to honor the families of Maine soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001.

“It is only fitting that we, the elected members of the Legislature, recognize those families that have lost loved ones while protecting our freedoms and liberties,” said Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who sponsored legislation to have the adjutant general address lawmakers every year.

Ice cream moved to non-secure building

People love Gifford’s ice cream, but apparently not enough to go through State House security every time they want a scoop.

As a result, the ice cream has been moved from the small sandwich shop in the State House — which is just beyond the scanners — to the larger cafeteria in the state office building, where there is no security.

Cafeteria sources say ice cream lovers did not like having to empty the change out of their pockets just because they needed a little afternoon pick-me-up. It’s no doubt one of the unintended consequences of the new security system installed last month.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]


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