Janet Mills' vetoes show longstanding divide with another top Maine Democrat

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Jun. 30—Good morning from Augusta.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "If it works, the environmental impacts compared to the chemicals currently used are substantial," Angela Mech, an assistant professor of forest ecology at the University of Maine, said about an idea to stymie the browntail moth population by using pheromones to confuse them. "It's so specific to browntail moths it won't have any non-target effects on other butterflies and moths, and the costs can be cheaper for the pheromone than for some pesticides." We'll take anything in this epic fight. Here's your soundtrack.

What we're watching today

The governor's recent round of vetoes is part of a years-long divide on key policy pushes from one of Augusta's top Democrats. Gov. Janet Mills has already vetoed 14 bills from a Legislature led by fellow Democrats. She is almost certainly not done yet as many marquee proposals are awaiting final votes that will come on Wednesday and Thursday, when lawmakers are also expected to ink a bipartisan agreement on a revised $8.5 billion, two-year budget.

No lawmaker has been hit as hard by the governor's veto pen as Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who saw two bills aiming to stop prescription price gouging and unsupported price increases fall to vetoes. Before that, Mills vetoed a Jackson measure that would target logging companies by banning aerial spraying of herbicides in the North Woods.

There were already intraparty divides on Jackson's health care push due to constitutional questions about regulating transactions that happen outside of Maine. Attorney General Aaron Frey's office said it may have a 50-50 chance of defending one of the bills. Mills, the former attorney general, said both "would invite costly and protracted litigation" in veto letters.

This should not have been a surprise. Jackson assailed Mills in 2017 — just after she announced a run for governor — for opposing a similar prescription drug bill then. Her administration has also opposed other labor bills from the hard-charging Senate president, who advanced a bill in 2019 expanding ranked-choice voting to presidential elections over the governor's objections.

More vetoes of top Jackson bills could be coming. In a blunt Tuesday statement, Jackson urged people to contact lawmakers to ask them to override some of the first ones.

"Tell them to do what the governor did not have the courage to do — stand up to Big Pharma," he said.

The Legislature has a lot of work to do today. Lawmakers will need to make decisions on a revived effort to bring sports betting to the state. There is also a vote expected on a proposal to limit offshore wind in certain Maine waters and expanding MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, to noncitizens living in the state who are ineligible for federal coverage due to their immigration status. The fate of a bill that would send a question to voters in November on creating a consumer-owned utility will likely be determined by a House amendment and how that influences a tightly divided Senate.

The Maine politics top 3

— "What the end of Janet Mills' state of emergency means for Maine," Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: "The ... high-profile restrictions have been lifted aside from a mask mandate in schools that will be optional after Wednesday. Some pandemic-inspired policies will end while others will live on through various state or federal actions. Mills plans to extend some deregulating orders as well."

The governor will extend some provisions in an effort to make the transition easier. Loosened restrictions on child care providers and easier licensing for health care workers and law enforcement are among the measures likely to stick around in the short term. Mills is holding an in-person press conference — marking the state's last coronavirus briefing — at the state house on Wednesday along with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. The BDN will stream the briefing at 2 p.m.

— "Family of slain Vinalhaven man wants AG's office to be more transparent about investigation," Lauren Abbate, BDN: "Amy Fairfield, the attorney representing the family of Roger Feltis, filed a complaint against Attorney General Aaron Frey in Lincoln County court Tuesday afternoon. The filing asks a judge to weigh in on whether the limitations that the attorney general's office has placed on the family's access to the investigative file are 'reasonable' under state statute."

— "Maine manufacturers survived the pandemic by producing protective gear. Now demand has dried up.," Lori Valigra, BDN: "With vaccines diminishing demand for protective gear and cheaper mask imports flooding the market, [Ben Waxman] has returned to the apparel business and trimmed his workforce by half to 60. Even though positive public health outcomes prompted the change, it came swiftly and as another shock to businesses that ramped up quickly to produce essential goods."

High court to hear petition on redistricting deadline

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hold a hearing this afternoon after legislative leaders asked for an extension of the redistricting deadline due to data delays. Leaders from both parties have asked the high court to give the Legislature's redistricting commission the chance to come up with maps later this year after the U.S. Census Bureau said it would not release the detailed data necessary for apportionment until August. Maine's constitutional deadline for redistricting was earlier this month. Audio of the hearing will be streamed live here beginning at 2 p.m.

Today's Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you're reading this on the BDN's website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.