I was delighted that David Singer did this great story with my friend Lisa Harvey-Macpherson, who was interviewed with me recently on WGME regarding my bill to help faculty at Maine's nursing schools with their student debt load. https://wgme.com/news/working-solutions/bill-would-pay-for-nurses-tuition-if-they-stay-to-teach-in-maine.
I am pleased to report that my bill, LD 482 “Resolve, To Support Home Health Services”, was funded in the 2018 supplemental budget over a gubernatorial veto, helping to ease the problem of section 40 home care reimbursements, which have been flat or declining for almost two decades. Now, Medicaid, I realize, is dry reading, but this bill makes a significant difference for people across Maine. These funds support innovative services that are a critical tool in allowing Maine people, mostly elderly, to live safely and productively in their homes, greatly extending their ability to be independent despite medical circumstances that could otherwise land them in the hospital, in assisted living or nursing care.
At the heart of all of this is a system that, in my estimation, combines elements of Norman Rockwell with elements of Buck Rogers. I got to see it first hand in Saco last year, and it left me deeply impressed.
A tablet device is provided to each patient for home use, and each day the patient is prompted by the device to measure vital signs and answer interview questions customized to their individual condition. The data is then, without any significant effort by the patient, beamed directly into the MaineHealth Care at Home office. It’s simple, it’s inexpensive, and it’s easy for the patient to do.
At the home office, is a large screen, with rows of names on it, receiving data from each patient every day. Each of the names is normally shown in a green box, meaning that the patient is okay. If some reading is questionable, the box turns yellow, which prompts a phone call from a home health nurse. Maybe the patient has not taken her pills that morning. Maybe the patient indulged in too much salt with dinner the night before. Or maybe something more serious is wrong. The nurse on the phone can provide an assessment and it’s often an easy solution – take an extra pill, or maybe just drink some extra water. Or maybe more is required, in which case a consultation takes place with the patient’s physician, and a different course of action is undertaken.
That’s the Buck Rogers part. It’s very cool. The Norman Rockwell part arises from the steady, old-fashioned relationship that develops between the nurse and the patient during regular home clinical visits. I was able to accompany a clinical nurse as she visited the home of a spry retired public school teacher in Old Orchard Beach who had been recently discharged from hospital care. It was great to see the obvious trust and the warmth and the ease of the interaction.
This direct relationship, combined with the confidence she had in knowing that highly trained professionals were always monitoring her post-hospitalization well-being, meant that the patient was able to remain happily at home, comfortable, safe, and healthy. This is exactly how I’d want to be treated were I in a similar situation.
But beyond the clear value of this model to the patient, my support is rooted equally in the fact that providing this type of integrated clinical home health care services to MaineCare patients with chronic health issues, and individuals recovering from an accident, surgery or illness makes good fiscal sense. It’s much more affordable than a stay, or readmission to a hospital, or time in a nursing home or an assisted living facility.
So to the Star Trek and Norman Rockwell images, let me add a final image, of a frugal New England accountant stretching every penny to its limit. This program represents the rare intersection of clinical excellence, a high degree of personal touch, and true cost effectiveness. It’s a triple winner.
Earlier this session, I introduced legislation to pay for the administrative costs of expanding MaineCare to comply with current law. Long an opponent of this action, Governor LePage had claimed that he would expand MaineCare if the legislature would only provide him with the resources to do so. This bill did precisely that, and ultimately was vetoed, when the Governor came up with different reasons to oppose expansion. Some of my testimony in introducing the bill appears below:
"The merits of Medicaid Expansion have been fully debated in Maine, and around the country, where 33 states, including the district of Columbia and Maine have now adopted it. Here, 58 percent of the voters supported this measure. The question has moved from one of should we expand, to one of how does the legislature support implementation. The purpose of this bill, which I filed initially as a supplemental budget shell bill back in 2016, is simply to provide funding for the technology upgrades and 103 staff and that DHHS needs to begin taking applications on July 2, 2018 as required by law. This amendment is based on the positions and cost levels that were outlined by DHHS in their memo to us in January.
But even beyond this clear legal requirement, there is real urgency to work quickly and collaboratively to pass this legislation, that will make care available to Maine people who need it beginning on July 2nd—just over two months away. At that time, Mainers with diabetes, or heart disease, or mental health conditions will be standing in line to apply for the care they are eligible for. DHHS needs the resources to do its work.
On July 2nd we will also finally have the chance to deliver long needed relief to our hospitals that accrue thousands of dollars in debt daily by providing the charity care needed to carry out their missions to maintain and improve the health of their communities. And on July 2nd we can begin to scale back the costs passed on to Maine people who have been watching their own health insurance rates rise as the cost of caring for tens of thousands of uninsured people has been passed on to them.
I appreciate having the opportunity to introduce this bill hope we can work together to pass this bill as the quickest and most efficient way to address these urgent startup needs and to get this program underway."
Here's a photo I took on a visit to Penobscot Bay a couple of years ago. It points up both the pristine quality of the water and the amazing natural beauty of the Maine Coast. I am happy to report that I and 226 of my colleagues from other coastal states recently signed on to a letter of protest organized by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke reiterating our opposition to the Trump plan to expand drilling for oil and gas off the Continental US.
The letter, spearheaded by Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker and California State Senator Kevin De Leon, cites numerous issues that come with offshore drilling. These issues range from the large-scale, irreparable damage caused by oil spills, to the long term damage to coastal economies after these disasters.
“This reckless proposal opens over 90 percent of US shorelines to new oil and gas drilling, putting our economy and marine environment at risk of a catastrophic oil spill,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker. “States across the country are standing up together against the Trump administration to protect our communities, our marine and coastal environment and economy.”
The Full Announcement be found here: http://www.ncel.net/2018/03/05/legislators-oppose-proposed-offshore-drilling-program/
And the Letter itself is available here:
Recently, a legislator from Southern Maine submitted LD 1806 - a bill "To Assure Equity in the Funding of Maine's Transportation Infrastructure by Imposing an Annual Fee on Hybrid and Electric Vehicles." The premise of this act is that electric and hybrid vehicles, by paying less in fuel taxes, are not paying their "fair share" of road costs.
On the face of it, this seems like a fair concept. In fact it garnered some spirited debate among members of my own family, who like all Mainers, are subject this time of year to a profusion of bone-shaking potholes. In my mind, however, this is a punitive bill designed to mask (and not mask effectively) the fact that our gas tax has not kept up with inflation, while simultaneously zinging the perceived liberalism of economical car owners. Moving as we are now, out of a period of historically low gas prices, we missed a perfect opportunity to painlessly raise the gas tax and better keep our roads in shape. Instead, the governor wants to penalize people who are seeking to mitigate their carbon footprints.
If 10% of our 1,500,000 Maine-registered cars were plug-ins, I think the argument that there might need to be some sort of alternative tax to cover road wear, to offset what would have been paid in gas tax, is a debate that would at least be worth having. But certainly not right now, when we should be doing all we can to increase the use of those vehicles. Plenty of fossil-fuel subsidies support, at least indirectly, Suburbans and Denalis. I'm more than happy to give-drivers of low emission vehicles a tiny little tax savings.
We do need more funding for our roads and bridges, and I support ways to develop that. Ultimately, I would like to see road taxes based on total miles driven and, even better, vehicle weight, possibly metered in conjunction with the gas tax. Those factors are what are busting up the roads, not a few Priuses and Nissan Leaves.
Having been called out by the Maine People's Alliance for voting against the so-called "Dakota Access Pipeline Divestiture Bill" I wanted to share my reasoning for this position. The bill would have instructed the State of Maine to divest from deposits in any bank that has helped to finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. This would have fallen most heavily on the State Retirement system.
I need to be crystal clear that I am no friend of the Dakota Access pipeline. That project is is an outrageous abridgment of tribal sovereignty and I think that the issue of risk to clean water has been vastly whitewashed by the proponents of the project.
So I support the issue very much. But I didn't support that bill.
My primary reason for opposing that bill was a simple one: The purpose of the Maine State retirement system is to provide return for retirees who do not qualify to receive social security and who have trusted their lifetime pensions to that fund. It's not the state's money - it is all owed to the individuals who paid into it. Therefore I oppose any sort of restrictions on its investments for specific political causes (however valid those causes are) unless the people who own the funds have voted that whatever restriction is being proposed is okay with them.
It's difficult, because this year it's DAPL - two years ago, it was a proposed plan to force the fund to divest from all fossil fuels. I could think of many other things that I would like us not to invest in, like Monsanto, or various drug companies that in my estimation fleece the American people, or, for that matter, Wal-Mart. Another bill this session, from right-wing activists, would have forced us to stop any investments or business with any company that has boycotted Israel. We killed that, too, thankfully.
The difficulty with these issues is that if you start placing legal restrictions on investment options, you quickly end up with a whole grid of restrictions that makes investing harder, and puts Maine retirees at a relative disadvantage. Many of those retirees already have pensions that leave them in poverty because they were paid poorly during their working careers, and I am troubled by that.
Oil is something that every single American uses every single day of every year, either directly or indirectly. It would be very hard to single out specific DAPL investments in companies in that sector and in the financial services sector, which is so interlinked with the whole US economy. This particular bill was very vague in how it defined investment in DAPL, and I think that even if I was able to ignore the issues above, I would have opposed it for that more technical reason.
Finally, I think it's worth noting that the Maine Retirement system already takes into account environmental and social considerations when it makes its investments. I don't know if the fund actually holds any specific assets that were directly tied to the DAPL project, but if there were serious concerns about a specific company, those factors would be considered by the fund as part of that process. The legislature is not equipped to make investment decisions, and that's why we have people whose sole job is to consider all these issues in managing the billions of Maine State Workers' dollars that they've been entrusted with.
I don't know if you are moved by these arguments, but I hope I can offer at least a glimpse into my reasoning. This was neither a reflexive nor an idealogical vote for me. As much as I support those who object to DAPL I had no problem saying no to this idea.
As a member of the legislature's commission that deals with Maine-Canada relations, I was honored to have the opportunity to visit Quebéc in September to tour hydroelectric facilities and to meet with various officials involved in US-Canadian affairs. This is a picture of our delegation visiting with US Consul General Allison Aerias-Vogel (fourth from the left) in Quebec City. Certainly my favorite Canadian province, Quebec is a leader in land conservation and resource management, relations with its sovereign first nations, and of course it is endowed with a fabulous French culture that permeates everything.
It is a super-entrepreneurial and business-focused place, yet it celebrates this posture while proudly acknowledging the value of the Canadian health care system and the presence of excellent child care, two factors that present nothing but a drag on businesses on our side of the border. Because my colleagues on this trip all happened to come from the other party, I thought that the message could not have been heard by more important ears. I was not surprised that virtually everyone North of the border is alarmed by the protectionist rhetoric of the Trump Administration. They reminded us that while American and Canadian companies physically occupy one side of the border or the other, the supply chains in both countries rely heavily on trade. A lesson worth remembering.
The first session of the 128th Legislature was, if not the longest session in history, then the longest session in anyone's memory. Our statutory adjournment date was June 15th, and we were still in session on August 2nd.
We'd been advised long before not to make any travel plans for July - but that August would be "safe". And so I made plans to leave town at the start of August. When I heard we would be back at the state house to try and overturn vetoes on August 2nd, I tried to make changes to my flights but those proved cost prohibitive and so I was away that day.
It's always hard to reassemble the legislature outside of its normal dates of operation. And that was a costly day to miss - we took final votes on a number of bills, including closely-watched issues like solar power legislation and toxic chemical reform, both of which are particularly important to me. I take my attendance seriously, and was sorry and pained to have missed those votes in particular.
By Representatives Erik Jorgensen and Richard Farnsworth
THIS IS A STORY FROM THE DEERING SQUIRREL
Oh, how all of us who represent Portland will miss Anne Haskell! Her impending retirement from Augusta represents a major change in Portland’s legislative landscape. We’ll miss her wisdom, her humor, her generosity, and her stunning skill as a legislator, drawn from a public service career that has spanned decades, including six terms of the House and two in the Senate.
While it’s hard to generalize about Anne’s enormous body of work in Augusta, it’s fair to say that she’s never forgotten the everyday people who sent her there. It’s easy to point to her hard work around big issues like health care access and social justice, but it’s her list of small, pragmatic accomplishments that might best show her legislative personality. She knows the value of incrementalism, which is truly the way that change happens in divided government.
Last session, she added a new title to her list of distinctions, as she became “the Senator who made hair braiding legal in Maine”. Astonishingly, braiding, which carries special importance in the African immigrant community, required a beautician’s license to perform. Anne led the effort to de-regulate this activity, providing a small but important benefit to many of our immigrant neighbors as well as to the general business climate in Maine. This work around “hair liberation” is just one example of the breadth of her work. Over the years her legislation has included bills to enhance screening for breast cancer, improve housing security deposit options for low income Mainers, reform the juvenile justice system and make unemployment compensation fair for seniors, to name a few.
Beyond what she does in Augusta, Anne’s impact here at home is every bit as impressive. Both of us have repeatedly stood on stages with her, at events and in forums, and at every turn, we learn new things about our neighborhood and city. She’s paid a lot of attention to the details of this place, its history and its operation, yet she never lets her deep experience turn into superiority. Anne is always self-effacing, good humored, and unfailingly attentive. At the same time, she’s tough, and willing to fight for both our city and policies that are important for Maine.
She’s been the ideal citizen lawmaker, a great friend, and the kind of colleague one rarely finds in the real world. And so we wish you all the best, Anne, but understand that you can say goodbye but never really leave - we have not forgotten where Higgins Street is, and you’ll still be on our speed-dial lists in the years to come.
From my perspective, the the two most important issues facing our state are issues relating to climate change and demographics. These two factors profoundly touch on every aspect of Maine's economy and identity, from likely changes in our natural resource economy, sea level rise threatening our coastal communities, to work force availability, education policy, and tax base, just to name a few. These issues are even more vexing because they are long-term problems where any solution or mitigation is going to need to go beyond one legislature, one gubernatorial administration, and, truly, one generation.
I was honored to have been consulted on this story, which deals with immigration to Maine. While immigration is certainly not the only answer to our demographic puzzle, it is going to have to play an important role, and current administration policies (as well as those being favored on the Federal level by one of the Presidential Candidates) are doing nothing to encourage it.
Here's the Story by NYT reporter Kit Seelye.
Erik C. Jorgensen represents Maine House District 41 - Part of Portland. This blog represents his own opinions and not those of the Maine Legislature, Maine Democrats, or anyone else. To read more about me, click here