Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine first called President Obama’s revised birth-control bill a step in the right direction when it was announced Feb. 10.

However, Collins and Snowe said last week they now want more information before taking a position on Obama’s policy.

Initially the bill sought to require religious-affiliated employers, such Catholic hospitals and universities, to cover birth control costs for their workers.

Churches and houses of worship would have been exempt, but many Catholic leaders were still outraged by what they saw as a violation of their faith.

As a result, Obama’s bill now calls for shifting the responsibility of coverage onto insurance companies for employers who have a moral objection to it.

Megan Hannan, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said she was disappointed Maine’s senators haven’t embraced the contraception bill because “I have always thought they were very solid on birth control.”

In 2001, Snowe wrote and Collins co-sponsored a never-passed bill that prohibited insurance plans from excluding contraceptives from their prescription benefits.

There was no religious exemption in that bill as written, but Snowe and Collins have said they favored adding a “conscience clause.”

Snowe said the White House “certainly has made some critical adjustments” to its proposal, but she still wants “to see the final rule to make sure that we understand exactly what it will do.”

Collins said she has become concerned about how the revised rule would apply to self-insured Catholic institutions.

Homeland security

Maine will receive $2.8 million in State Homeland Security Grant Program funding for 2012, down from $5.1 million last year, according to the office of Sen. Susan Collins.

It’s a cut that had been expected because federal homeland security funding for states has been on the wane in recent years. Nationally, homeland security grant funding decreased to $1.3 billion this year, from $2.1 billion in 2011.

The State Homeland Security Grant Program is run by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which keeps 20 percent of the grant to cover administrative costs and shares the balance with county and local agencies. Its 2011 allocation of $5.1 million was down from $6.6 million in 2010.

Bruce Fitzgerald, MEMA deputy director, said the agency now will focus on spending the grant money to help local communities maintain existing equipment and programs, rather than funding new purchases and initiatives.

The state gets a slight increase, however, for the Emergency Management Performance Grants Program – $3.4 million this year, up from $3.3 million last year. That program sends money to the state’s 16 county emergency management agencies and local agencies.

The state and local communities also can apply for other types of homeland security funding, including port and border security programs.

The city of Portland last year got a $1 million grant for port security, for instance.

Cybercrime

Collins says U.S. companies and government agencies must do a better job securing important computer networks against cybercrime and terrorism.

Collins joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week in unveiling a long-anticipated cybersecurity bill.

“The threat is not just to our national security, but also to our economic well-being,” Collins said.

The lawmakers say the bill would create a public-private partnership to secure vital computer systems that, if disrupted by a cyberattack, could cause mass deaths, evacuations or other damage to the economy or national security.

Some business groups have said the legislation’s requirements may be too costly and broad.

Snowe said she, too, has been working as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the issue. Snowe said because of concerns about the bill imposing too much regulation, “I intend to work with my colleagues to ensure our federal response to the threats we face is balanced and protects the freedoms that we all cherish.”

Tariffs

Maine’s paper industry needs some help from Congress in fighting illegally subsidized goods from China and other countries, according to Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

Michaud, chairman of the House Trade Working Group, and 42 other House members sent a bipartisan letter last week to House leaders, asking them to allow a vote on legislation that would allow the federal government to slap tariffs on such goods when needed.

The lawmakers say a recent federal appeals court decision took away that ability.

“If we do not address this ruling, we would lose one of the most important tools we have to make sure American manufacturers compete on a level playing field,” Michaud said in a statement last week. “It is critical that House leadership act immediately to preserve our ability to apply tariffs to illegally subsidized goods from China. These tariffs are critical to the coated paper industry in Maine, and it would be devastating to our paper industry if this court ruling is not addressed legislatively.”

There already is a federal rule requiring the Department of Defense to buy American-made uniforms and other gear. That rule should be extended to the Department of Homeland Security, Collins said.

Collins, the top Republican on the Senate’s homeland security committee, introduced a bill, along with Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana, requiring the homeland security department to outfit its workers, which include border patrol and transportation safety agents, with American-made uniforms, footwear, field packs and other equipment.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: /MaineTodayDC


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