Mr. Speaker and Ladies and Gentlemen of the House
Nearly 50 years ago, the worst submarine disaster in history occurred in the Gulf of Maine.
The USS Thresher, built in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine was the most advanced naval vessel of its day.
On April 10, 1963, the Thresher took its last dive and 129 men, many from Maine and with connections to Maine perished in service of their country.
The tragedy resulted in the SUBSAFE safety program to ensure that this disaster will never be repeated.
The memory of that loss lives on in our community and in order to always maintain that memory, the citizens of Kittery are dedicating a permanent memorial to the sacrifice of those lives.
We invite every person in this chamber to the dedication of this Memorial on April 7 in Kittery, Maine to commemorate this tragic event in our nation's history.
Today, in the Gallery we have present some members of the families who lost their loved ones in their sacrifice to our country.
On February 21 the House overwhelmingly voted for a supplemental budget. I supported an amendment that would place a surcharge on the state income taxes of the wealthiest Maine residents. This would be an average of about $300 after they receiving a tax cut of about $3,000. The amendment didn't pass, but the budget did restore some of the most onerous of the budget cuts recommended by the Governor. He will not sign this bill, but it will go into effect ten days after reaching his desk.
On Monday, I will testify to the Taxation Committee about my bill to have a state sales tax holiday for the month of January, allowing Mainers to buy necessities in the month when there are the least number of tourists paying sales tax.
Tuesday's session was disturbing. The Governor and Republicans found a handle to pump up the emotions on gun rights. When the press requested a Freedom of Access Act list of names of holders of Concealed Gun Permits, the gunners exploded. Fears of gun thefts or leftist retributions were stoked. Although this right of access has been in place for decades, creating an Emergency Bill to remove these names from transparency caught fire. The Democrats reacted within hours, essentially supporting removal from FOAA but with a moratorium until April.
In order to take this issue out of gun rights and place it in its proper context, I voted for an amendment to place a moratorium on ALL licenses, including hunting, fishing, and business. This amendment failed. Many veteran House members were shocked in that they have never seen any bill steamrolled in this manner. No committee hearings, no debate, no deliberations.
I voted with great reservations for the moratorium because I did not want to see abusers finding the addresses of the abused. However, if there is a good reason for an individual to keep their information private, there is a process for that.
I will be working to make it known to all concealed weapon permit owners that they can apply for an exemption to FOAA. When this issue comes up again (and it will), I will be able to vote to keep public information public with no reservations.
Money, economy, taxes. Maine has the slowest growth of New England states. But we are the most persistent and innovative. What's the problem? Maybe some yankee guilt, maybe some insecurity. I think we can graduate from this malaise.
The House is now gearing up to hear all of the many bills we quickly generated last month. The Renewable Energy License Plate will be up for a hearing on Feb 27 with the Transportation Committee. And thanks so much to the Appropriations Committee, chaired by my Senator, Dawn Hill who has spent many days working until midnight to hone an acceptable Supplementary Budget. We need to get two-thirds to pass this so we don't argue with the Governor about its necessity. I will publish the condensation of our committee's proposal. These our not easy choices, but the Maine Constitution mandates a balanced budget.
The Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee work this week has been an education on telephone deregulation. What a lot of laws to allow competition in the communications industry!
On Tuesday, we will vote on the Governor's emergency measure to prevent the release of the list of those that are licensed to carry concealed firearms. This is not as simple as it looks. A responsible Press would not publish those names, but the freedom of the press is essential to democracy. If it weren't for investigative reporting, we might have Dick Nixon's face on Mt. Rushmore today....
Bill ideas are now in the Revisor of Statutes Office. What a great dedicated group of state employees. Maine is advanced among states in that the language of our laws is mandated to be in simple, understandable sentences. I will be listing the bills I am submitting when they are printed.
Of course, the biggest issue in our state is money. Maine is the only state in New England where the economy did not grow last year. The Governor's proposed budget shifts more of the tax burden to the middle class, already hurting. To ask school districts to share in retirement is really just a cut to education. The best income source for the state is new taxpayers so we will be looking to increase jobs in the state.
My bipartisan effort is the Very First Term Caucus. We will be meeting on Thursday the 24th. There are so many of us that haven't held state office before. We may not know what we're doing but we certainly have a fresh perspective. Let's see if we can find new ways of working together.
All ideas for bills for the next 2 years (except emergencies) have to be presented by Friday. I have been meeting with people from environmental organizations, civil liberties, and Efficiency Maine to try to hone the ideas I have for legislation. I also attended a presentation by telecommunications group to explain the intricacies of our network. As a member of the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, I will be attending education sessions twice a week. The first was Tuesday with a barrage of acronyms.
To those concerned about the vast cuts to education in the Curtailment and the proposed budget, I met with the Department of Education (as suggested by our Former Senator Bowman). I now understand how the proportion of cuts are made, community by community, and I can explain what I've learned (but too complicated for this blog).
An idea from our new Kittery Citizens Committee was a bill to make public employee review records. I've compared the Massachusetts law with Maine's and it seems possible to legislate more transparency, so I'm proposing a bill. The snow on Wednesday slowed down some meetings but I heard several times, "This is nothing, we're Mainers"
What an incredible 3 day bus tour sponsored by the Maine Development Foundation.
Starting at the revitalization of Bangor, we visited the new Hollywood Casino and Hotel, the new Convention center under construction. Then U Maine at Orono and the amazing Composites Center where they are inventing boats, bridges, bulletproof panels, wind turbines and engineered lumber.
Day 2 saw a tour of Madison Paper mill where they produce vast amounts of paper for magazines and catalogs with less and less energy use. Then Bingham Health Center where rural residents have started both medical and dental clinics for everyone in the community on a sliding scale. Then the Poland Springs Bottling Plant which would have made Willy Wonka jealous. Human beings basically watch the machines work on screens. Then Thomas College in Waterville and a great panel on early childhood education.
Day 3 started in Skowhegan and the New Balance plant in an old mill building where people actually make shoes. A great environment with fitness center, onsite health assistance, and a real ethic of working together. The Margaret Chase Smith Library is a great facility in Skowhegan and we heard the Skowhegan Collaborative talk about their efforts. The town jail is now a grist mill, there is an excellent farmers' market, and people are working together on health and education issues. We then saw Good Will-Hinckley School and Kennebec Valley Community College site.
Three days - stimulating, exciting and exhausting.
Representatives Beavers, Rykerson, and Kornfield at Bangor Convention Center under construction.
Maine Development Foundation presentation- very active group to encourage moving Forward in Maine through investment, education, leadership.