Report from the culture wars

October 1, 2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Evidently the Governor and I have very different thresholds for what constitutes a “perfectly qualified” nominee.

Believing that I always owe you an explanation of my reasoning on controversial votes that I make as your representative, I want to report on the confirmation hearing that my committee held Friday in Augusta — especially as our committee vote and subsequent action in the Senate yesterday drew fire from the Governor’s office in a press release which, unusually, names me explicitly.

Although the regular session is over, our committee was called back to Augusta to hear the Governor’s nominations to fill 22 slots on various education-related governing boards including those of the University System and the Community College system. I do not know why the Governor waited to make these nominations until the final two months of his current term.

Legislative confirmations rarely are controversial.  To the Governor’s credit, the dozen or so nominees that our committee has reviewed over the past two years have seemed well-qualified.  If any of the nominees harbored ideological views, they were greatly tempered by moderation and experience.  It’s unusual for us even to know a nominee’s partisan affiliation.

Of the 22 nominees that we considered on Friday, 21 of them seemed similarly well-qualified.  (One of the nominees to the board of the Maine School of Science and Math, Charlie Wray, is from Mount Desert and also chairs the school board of our own MDI High School. He easily earned confirmation.)

But one of the nominees to the board of trustees for the University of Maine System, Susan Dench from Falmouth, a conservative activist and former blogger for the Bangor Daily News, raised unusual consternation.

While I certainly don’t share most of Dench’s published views about the advantages of parochial education, the stabilizing function of traditional gender roles, and her suspicions about the feminization of education, I don’t see her opinions in themselves as necessarily disqualifying.

What I found substantially more concerning was Dench’s lack of oversight experience in any sort of public governance.

While, again, I don’t think such inexperience is necessarily disqualifying, I did want to be reassured that, for all her published criticism of public institutions, she had some understanding of the special charges and challenges of public oversight.

Many people coming from private enterprise — our Governor comes to mind here — find it frustrating to deal transparently with public process — especially those who already are certain that they know the way an organization should be.

Last March, businessman and former independent candidate for governor Shawn Moody came before us for confirmation to the University of Maine board and, initially many on our committee were similarly skeptical.  But Moody spoke long and passionately about his hopes and vision for public education in relation to his own formative life experiences, readily convincing the committee of his earnestness, commitment, and understanding of complex process.

In contrast, at this hearing, in the context of her inexperience with public education and published advocacy for private and parochial schools, when I asked Dench for her view of the mission of public education, she offered only that public education represented another “choice.”

Given our greater expectations of the strategic alignment of a land-grant research university system to meet the state’s educational and economic needs,  I took this answer as terminally insufficient and ultimately disqualifying.

The hearing was then further complicated by public testimony that Dench had plagiarized some of her published work.

The plagiarism issue aside, I voted not to confirm Ms. Dench simply because she lacked any experience in overseeing a public institution and because she could not articulate any vision for the purpose, necessity, or value of public education.

Surely anyone with any claim to political instincts could have predicted a rocky confirmation process for a nominee with Dench’s public political persona.

At this point in the election cycle, it is probably unavoidable for accusations of partisanship to fly out of deliberations such as these.  And certainly the Governor has always felt entitled to his own characterizations such as those in his press release.

But I want to make sure that my constituents understand my own reasoning.

Legislative report: Summer 2014

14 September 2014

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Before the distraction of the fall elections, here is a summary of this past summer’s legislative activity.  Although the legislative session is adjourned, much work continues since my last report to you in May.

Leading improvements to Maine’s school funding model

First, I am proud and honored to have been appointed this summer to chair the state legislative commission on school funding.  Our commission is charged with recommending targeted improvements to the state’s school funding model.  Our goals are to ensure adequate relative funding for communities with significant numbers of economically-disadvantaged students, to expand Maine’s capacity for effective early education, and to support more time for professional improvement and collaboration among teachers as we ramp up Maine’s educational expectations.

We also intend to solidify the state’s legal commitment toward consistently funding special education which was a component of the state’s original citizen-initiated mandate to meet 55% of the calculated costs of education. This particularly concerns our local district because partial special education reimbursement is the only form of state subsidy that our schools receive.

Distress from costs of charter school expansion

With the opening this month of a controversial virtual school, the unresolved problem of funding for charter schools is rising again to lawmakers’ attention.

As you know, because of the unwarranted additional burden that state-approved charter schools place on local school district budgets, in both of our legislative sessions I advanced initiatives which sought to obligate the state to cover the full cost of charter schools.

Regrettably, the first bill was vetoed by the Governor and the second, to my great disappointment, became a casualty to partisan suspicion in the final days of our closing session last April.

Over the past two years, the funding pain from state-approved brick and mortar charter schools has been somewhat localized and easy for legislators from other areas to ignore.

However, just this month, the ‘Connections Academy’ virtual charter school opened its software doors to 281 students statewide and sent full tuition invoices to the 86 local school districts in which their virtual students are physically resident, wreaking unanticipated havoc on established local school budgets.

I predict that extensive local distress from these unexpected new liabilities will re-focus legislators’ interest in properly resolving what is no longer merely a hypothetical problem within their districts.

College affordability

This summer and fall I am also serving on the Legislative Commission on College Affordability which is evaluating policies to allow more Mainers to attend and complete college without incurring crippling debt.

Just as post-secondary education is becoming increasingly indispensable to most future careers, the structural gap of unmet financial need is widening between the average student’s resources and their net college costs, even after qualifying for all available aid.

At the same time, our state has curtailed allocations to public colleges causing them both to raise tuition beyond the rate of inflation and to cut programs as a consequence of declining enrollment.

While our public colleges wrestle with administrative consolidation, our commission intends also to learn from effective programs from other states. We will make recommendations to the next legislature in December.

Thank you to the many of you who have responded with personal stories about the financial challenges of college.  They very much help our commission to frame the issues.

Advancing Maine’s capacity for research and development

This summer I have also been working with advocates from the Chamber of Commerce, the MDI Bio Lab, Jackson Lab, and College of the Atlantic to advocate comprehensively for the package of research and development bond questions that voters will consider on the November ballot.

With these R&D bonds, Maine has a rare opportunity to leverage our growing capacity for critical scientific research into a substantial expansion of jobs and economic growth.

With a critical mass of growing, experienced, and nimble non-profit research facilities — many of which distinguish our local district — Maine is well positioned to lead in support of the newest round of significant scientific research projects. With modest public partnership, our state’s future in this area can be bright.

I urge voters to support the strategic package of bonds in November.  In particular please be aware that, in addition to augmenting the state’s larger economic and educational goals, Bond Questions Four and Five will directly aid important work underway right now at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Lab

Retaining the ferry terminal

Last, I have continued discussions with the Maine Department of Transportation, the Maine Port Authority, and many other interested individuals facilitating the state’s purchase of the Bar Harbor ferry terminal from the Canadian Government. I am confident that we are finding a way to retain public ownership of this critically important property and its statewide benefit.

I remain grateful to serve as your state representative.  Please continue to contact me with your concerns at

With gratitude,

Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 35
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert
66 Park Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
(800) 423-2900 (Augusta)
288-3947 (home)

2014 Legislative Accomplishments and Disappointments

Dear Friends and Neighbors in Maine House District 35,

Having shared with you last December a recap of last year’s session and an outline of my priorities for this year as your representative, I want to offer here for comparison an accounting of what I see as my successes and disappointments in the 2014 legislative session.

Overall, I believe the Legislature did a remarkably good job of working together civilly and productively given the larger landscape of the partisan divide between the legislative and executive branches.  As outlined below, I am proud of many bipartisan accomplishments and disappointed by a few missed opportunities.

Jobs and economic development


I worked on several research and development bills which should significantly benefit our state and local economy as part of a $50 million collection of bond referenda which voters will consider in November.

One $3 million bond leverages $120 million to advance the MDI Bio Lab’s work in educating an entrepreneurial scientific workforce engaged in regenerative tissue repair and development of therapeutic drugs. This is projected to create 41 new jobs immediately and 75 new jobs in the long term.

Another $10 million bond leverages $180 million for Jackson Lab to construct a world-leading facility to research the genetic causes of cancer and aging.  This is projected to create 295 new jobs immediately and as many as 2700 new jobs in the long term.


I worked on another bond bill to aid in the public purchase of the Bar Harbor Ferry Terminal.  Unfortunately, the Governor was unwilling to support more than $50 million in total bonding this year and, with the Legislature already paring down its request for $73 million in closely vetted R&D bonds like those above, simply no money remained for this.

Budget and tax policy


I am especially proud of the Legislature’s success this session on a bipartisan budget which averted another potential $10 million curtailment to Maine schools, restored $2.5 million in college scholarships, supported innovative early college programs, repaired some of the broken promises to municipalities regarding revenue sharing, and reduced the waiting lists for community services for Mainers with intellectual disabilities.

With Speaker Eves, I also co-sponsored a bill which restored some income-based property tax credits in place of the cuts made last session to the circuit-breaker program.

Additionally, the Legislature resolved to review tax expenditures to ensure that they remain effective in returning their expected public benefits.


I worked to sustain a bipartisan bill which would have removed the state’s unfunded actuarial liability for retirement costs from the state’s annual calculation of the cost of education.

This figure was moved into the calculation during the last Legislature largely to inflate the state’s apparent contribution to schools.  But, as this number is much more a consequence of how the previous two decades of Legislatures chose to finance state operations than it does the actual cost of employee retirement, I believe that its inclusion is inappropriate and misleading.

However, in the final days of the session, it became clear that moving this initiative would antagonize the Governor and jeopardize progress on other important policies. So, after consultation, the Appropriations Committee allowed the bill to die.

Educational policy and finance


Surely my most gratifying accomplishment this session was finding a compromise that brought together the parties who for two years have been divided on developing the rules surrounding the thorny issue of teacher evaluations.

With a broad bipartisan vote over the Governor’s veto, we enacted rules which assure teachers a meaningful voice in deciding what measures of student growth will contribute to their evaluations while also ensuring that local school boards have the last word over evaluation policy.

Another bill of mine clarified the process around non-resident student transfers between school districts, an authority which had been liberally expanded earlier by this administration

With Senator Katz, I cosponsored a bill to develop a pilot program by which college tuition might be repaid by as a percentage of a student’s future income. This concept was folded into a successful broader committee bill studying college affordability

Also, with broad support from educators, the business community, and the criminal justice system, we enacted a bill to implement universal voluntary prekindergarten.

Last, concluding a review of school funding which began in the previous legislature, we established a commission to make specific recommendations regarding improving state funding directed toward early childhood education, support for economically disadvantaged students, and teacher professional development.


Faced with the imminent approval of several applications for new and unproven virtual charter schools by the state charter school commission, Senator Langley and I worked diligently on a bipartisan compromise bill which would have directly expanded teacher-supervised online learning for all students within public schools while effecting a moratorium on virtual charter schools.  Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed this bill and the Legislature failed to find the votes to override.

As if in complement to the success of the teacher evaluations bill, my biggest disappointment this session was being unable to bring together sufficient support to fix the acknowledged problem of funding for charter schools.

At present, the state forces local school districts to pay for resident students to attend charter schools over which they have no approval or oversight.

To remedy this, I was negotiated an amendment which would have: 1) saved school programs and relieved taxpayers’ pain within districts which are currently losing substantial local funds to expanding charter enrollments; 2) provided state-level funding for charter schools at a reduced rate of three-percent below that at which public schools are funded. 3) required transparent reporting of the total public spending on charter schools, 4) enacted a moratorium on additional virtual charter schools; and 5) accomplished all this within the current approved state budget.

Unfortunately, although I was able to draw support on this compromise from conservatives who are particularly wearied of the way current funding pits charter schools against public schools, the proposal was terminally blocked in the Senate by my own caucus through the influence of the Maine Education Association.

Ironically, in the chaotic final days of session, the more concessions I could win from conservatives on this compromise seemed only to inflame the suspicions of my liberal allies.

Access to health care


The Legislature enacted An Act To Improve Access to Oral Health Care which alleviates Maine’s regional shortage of dental care by allowing dental hygienists under the supervision of dentists to provide more mid-level dental services.

The Legislature successfully overrode three of the Governor’s vetoes related to health care: An Act To Reduce Tobacco-related Illness and Lower Health Care Costs in MaineCare which removes barriers to smoking cessation programs; An Act To Clarify the Law Governing Public Disclosure of Health Care Prices which simply makes a health care provider’s prices transparent to patients; and an act requiring insurers to provide coverage for testing which establishes the suitability of bone marrow donors.


Although the Legislature tried four different policy compromises, we were unable to find a way to capitalize on federal incentives to expand MaineCare coverage to 70,000 uninsured Mainers who otherwise lack access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Two other decent bipartisan efforts were stymied by Governor’s vetoes. One bill which sought to expand low-income Medicaid coverage for family planning got crossed up in misunderstanding that it was somehow related to abortion.

Another, a resolve which would have recommended ways to expand opportunities for independent living and employment for the disabled, fell afoul of the Governor’s distaste for commissions and studies.

Climate change and energy policy


With Representative Devin, I co-sponsored a successful bill establishing a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Maine’s marine economy and ecosystems.

With Senator Vitelli, I co-sponsored the Maine Solar Energy Act which sets specific state solar energy goals.


While the House found the votes to override the Governor’s veto of a bipartisan compromise bill which would have reinstated income-based rebates for Maine residents installing solar equipment and heat pumps, the Senate failed to override.

Local Food


With Senator Jackson, I co-sponsored a $7 million bond question to provide matching funds for competitive capital investment for a lobster processing facility.


The Legislature failed to override the Governor’s veto of three bills which would have required state institutions and schools to purchase at least 15% of their food from Maine food brokers; required that schools report the percentage of Maine food purchased; and which would have supported the development of local food hubs to connect Maine food producers with local institutional markets.

Environmental protection and land use


I cosponsored two successful environmental protection bills.  One establishes a fund to control invasive aquatic milfoil.  Another accelerates the recycling and processing of waste paint. The Legislature also broadly approved a $10M clean water bond.

More defensively, I worked on behalf of Acadia National Park in opposition to a Governor’s bill which would have required state approval for private land transfers to the federal government.  The bill was aimed at preventing the establishment of a North Woods National Park but it also would have impeded several carefully negotiated deals within the existing boundaries of Acadia National Park.  The bill was killed.


The Legislature was unable to override the Governor’s veto of a lakes protection bill which would have restricted the use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides within 25 feet of Maine lakes

Legislative report: March 17 – April 4

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teacher evaluations
Morning, good committee work session on LD 1747 Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education.  After a few refinements to broaden the endorsement of the teachers on the stakeholders’ group and to specify the default consequences if the stakeholders’ group fails to reach consensus, the committee unanimously adopted my amendment as the committee amendment which ensures that teachers have a voice in developing their school’s evaluations system.

Student data privacy in cloud computing and data storage
The committee also worked LD 1780 An Act To Prohibit Providers of Cloud Computing Service to Elementary and Secondary Educational Institutions from Processing Student Data for Commercial Purposes and recommended amending Judiciary Committee bill LD 1194 to include this in Committee’s study.

Afternoon Committee work sessions

School funding and college affordability
Continued work sessions on committee’s school funding bill, LD 1850 Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula and the committee’s college affordability bill, LD 1849 Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Study College Affordability and College Completion

Review of commissioned education studies

Committee presentation and discussion of three new CEPARE/ MEPRI reports:

Tuesday, March 18



MaineCare Expansion, Managed Care, accepting federal dollars

Expanding online learning
Senate roll call to override Governor’s veto of my Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts fell one vote short of an override.  Unfortunately, this means this bill is now dead.

Afternoon Education Committee work sessions

Early college
LD 1797 An Act Expanding Access to Early Postsecondary Education. Committee voted unanimously Ought to Pass as Amended.

Legislative review of the Department of Education
Concluding our review of Maine’s Department of Education via the Government Evaluation Act, our committee expressed concern about number of unfilled positions in Department and asked to be updated on progress on filling these.

Wednesday, March 19

Appropriations Committee update on closing FY2014 supplemental budget:
In a remarkable display of good bipartisan hard work, the Appropriations Committee unanimously closed the supplemental budget for the current fiscal year.

Child labor
On the child labor bill LD 1698: An Act To Streamline the Work Permitting Process for Minors and To Conform Allowable Places That Minors May Work to Federal Law, I voted with the majority in an 85-58 vote to accept the committee’s report of Ought Not To Pass.

Early tax abatement for destroyed buildings
On the municipal property tax abatement bill LD 1610: An Act To Allow a Municipality To Abate Taxes Assessed on Property That Is Destroyed, I voted with the majority on an 89-49 vote to accept the committee’s report Ought Not To Pass because I believe it would be inconsistent to impose altered municipal commitment dates and because I believe adequate allowances already are in place for abatements based upon financial hardship.

Afternoon committee work session

Cost components of virtual education
In the afternoon, our committee had a work session on LD 1617: An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Approval Process for and the Operation of Virtual Public Charter Schools in the State.  I think it unfortunate that the bill’s sponsor framed this as a charter school bill as I believe the committee discussion would have gone farther specifically as an investigation of the relative appropriate costs of virtual education as opposed to regular education, independently of the school governance structure.  But, as it was the committee vote divided along party lines which likely damns any prospects the bill might possibly have had for enactment.

Evening House session:

Forestry permits in the shoreland zone
On LD 1673: An Act To Further Delegate Permit-granting Authority to the Bureau of Forestry, I voted with the narrow 79-60 majority to accept the committee’s majority Ought To Pass As Amended report.  The bill seeks to consolidate and simplify forest harvesting permitting under the Natural Resources Protection Act  to a single agency instead of dividing it between the Bureau of Forestry for the Unorganized Territories and the DEP for municipalities.  Those who voted against the committee report did so largely out of suspicion that the state Bureau of Forestry is likely to be less diligent than the DEP about enforcing the rules.  But, as the rules themselves are unchanged and there is no evidence that the rules are inadequately enforced in the UT, I voted in favor of simplified oversight.

Thursday, March 20

Charter funding and teacher evaluations
Morning, met with Commissioner Rier about my charter funding bill which the Commissioner remains eager to move forward.  Also discussed the language in my amended bill regarding teacher evaluations towards which I understand the Department has no substantial objection.

Cell phone labeling
On LD 1013: An Act To Create the Children’s Wireless Protection Act, I voted in the narrowest of minorities, 68-69, on the motion to indefinitely postpone.  The bill’s proponents support the proposed requirement that cell phone packages carry warning labels about radio frequency radiation.  Opponents object that such warnings are not justified by science and are likely to subject the state to a losing lawsuit for violating Constitutional provisions of free speech and commerce. Holding the latter view, I voted with the minority.

Searsport dredging

Rehiring retired teachers
The Senate joined the House in overturning the Governor’s veto of a bill that allows retired teachers to return to teaching without jeopardizing their retirement benefits.

Friday, March 21:

FY 2014 budget report

Afternoon Committee hearing and work session

Student hunger task force
Education Committee held a public hearing and work session on LD 1819: Resolve, To Create the Task Force To End Student Hunger in Maine. Committee vote was unanimous Ought To Pass.

Penalizing schools for remedial education costs
We followed this with a work session on the Governor’s bill, LD 1812: An Act To Reduce the Burden Placed on Students as a Result of Requirements To Take Remedial Courses.  Holding the consensus that it is wrong to penalize school districts for the post-secondary performance of their students, the committee voted unanimously Ought Not To Pass.

Income-based property tax credits

Monday, March 24:

Morning session:

Transitional mental health services for young adults
LD 1367: An Act To Require Health Insurance Carriers and the MaineCare Program To Cover the Cost of Transition Services To Bridge the Gap between High School and Independence requires the MaineCare program and health insurance carriers to provide coverage for care coordination and assertive community treatment services for eligible persons who are 26 years of age or under who meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis and experience significant impairment in function as determined by a licensed mental health provider. By a vote of 90-48, the House voted to accept the committee’s majority report of Ought To Pass as Amended. I voted with the majority because I believe that these services are necessary and cost-effective and that excluding them creates unfair hardship for many families.

Healthcare insurance provider networks
LD 1676: An Act To Strengthen Access Requirements and Review Standards for Health Insurance Plans requires a health insurance carrier to disclose information about its provider networks, including whether there are any hospitals, health care facilities, physicians or other providers not included in the provider’s network and any differences in an enrollee’s financial responsibilities for payment of covered services to a participating provider and to a provider not included in a provider network. The House voted 92-48 to accept the committee report of Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended.  I voted with the majority because I believe that insurance purchasers should understand which providers are included and excluded from their plans.

Governor’s draft veto of evaluations bill
Lunchtime meeting with Governor’s policy advisor Tom Desjardins regarding teacher evaluations. Desjardins informed me that the Governor plans to veto this bill (which hasn’t yet been printed) and, as a courtesy, shared with me the Governor’s draft veto letter which objects to allowing teachers to have a voice in developing their evaluations system.

Committee confirmation hearings
Afternoon our committee held confirmation hearings for the Governor’s nominations to the boards of the Community College System and University of Maine System. The nominees included former gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody who operates a large and successful auto body repair business and whom the Governor was nominating to both boards.  Although some committee members had reservations about Moody’s qualifications to serve on both boards, I voted in favor of his nomination.  Probably would have supported him anyway, but what clinched it for me was Moody stating his belief that it makes good business sense to empower employees.

Tuesday, March 25:

Morning session

Bear-baiting referendum
Instead of delaying by referring the bill to committee this late in the session, the House voted to indefinitely postpone consideration of the citizen-initiated bill LD 1845: An Act To Prohibit the Use of Dogs, Bait or Traps When Hunting Bears Except under Certain Circumstances in order to send to voters at referendum as quickly as possible — as that almost certainly would be the ultimate outcome of the legislative policy debate anyway.

Troubled MaineCare rides program
LD 1663: Resolve, To Terminate a MaineCare Transportation Contract. MAJ OTP-A:  (86-56 party lines, prevails)

Patent trolls
On LD 1660: An Act Regarding Bad Faith Assertions of Patent Infringement, a bill which seeks to provide needed protections for community credit unions and banks from having to defend against expensive and frivolous claims of patent infringement, the House voted 74-68 in favor of the minority committee report of Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended.  I voted in the narrow majority because I support protecting community financial institutions and also object to the other committee amendment which unexplainably carves out an exception for big pharmaceutical companies.

Curtailing contract of controversial Medicaid study
On LD 1794: An Act To Cancel the No-bid Alexander Group Contract To Produce Savings in Fiscal Year 2013-14, the House voted 80-60 in support of the majority committee report of Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended.  I voted with the majority on this because reports suggest that this study is substantially flawed and behind schedule and because the study was improperly commissioned.

Fixing charter school funding tax shift
Met with Commissioner Rier and subsequently with our committee analyst to review draft language for my bill to remove the local burden of funding state-approved charter schools by advance state-level funding of state-approved charters.

University of Maine budget cuts
Afternoon meeting with UMS Chancellor Page and USM President Kalikow to understand the student protests in response to the budget cuts in the University System and particularly at the University of Southern Maine.

Wednesday, March 26:

Solar Energy
In order to gain broader support for the legislation, the House amended LD 1252: An Act To Improve Maine’s Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy to restrict the solar rebates to state residents and to extend some rebates, on the basis of income, for the installation of heat pumps. I voted with the substantial majority 109-30 because I believe renewable energy production is essential to Maine’s future..

Family Planning
On LD 1247: An Act To Expand Coverage of Family Planning Services, which extends contraceptive and disease-prevention services under Medicaid to low-income adults and adolescents, I voted with the 92-48 majority to accept the committee’s Ought To Pass as Amended report.

Independent living for the disabled
On LD 1757: Resolve, To Establish the Blue Ribbon Commission on Independent Living and Disability,  which establishes a blue ribbon commission on independent living and disability,  I voted with the 101-36 majority.

Ensuring business commitment in exchange for tax concessions
On LD 1710: An Act To Retain Call Centers in Maine, a bill which seeks to claw back state grants or tax benefit from call centers which relocate within five years of receiving such a public incentive, I voted with the 78-63 majority to accept the committee’s report of Ought To Pass as Amended because I believe it’s fair to expect commitment from businesses in exchange for favorable tax benefits.

Impeding transfers of private property to the federal government
For the Judiciary Committee’s work session on the Governor’s bill LD 1828: An Act To Limit Consent Regarding Land Transfers to the Federal Government, I relayed testimony against the bill on behalf of Acadia National Park which is concerned that such legislation would disrupt carefully negotiated ongoing agreements the Park has made with private owners within the Park’s established boundaries. In response, the Judiciary Committee voted to turn the bill into a study and refer the study to the Attorney General.

Wind turbine siting
In an evening session, the House debated a number of bills related to the siting of wind turbines:

LD 1147: An Act To Protect Maine’s Scenic Character seeks to obstruct all wind development within 15 miles of designated scenic resources such as the Appalachian Trail and Acadia National Park.  As I understand the agenda of most of this bill’s supporters to be wholly opposed to renewable energy development, I voted in the narrow 70-64 majority opposing the bill.

LD 1323: An Act Regarding Wind Power Siting in the Unorganized Territory seeks to remove the expedited permitting process for wind development as implemented by legislation following the previous Governor’s task force. Again, as I understand the agenda of most of this bill’s supporters to be wholly opposed to renewable energy development, I voted in the minority 56-78 majority opposing the bill.  The bill is currently in non-concurrence in the Senate.

On LD 1791: An Act To Expand Benefits from Maine’s Wind Resource, a bill from the Governor seeking to remove the specific goals of installed capacity from Maine’s Wind Act and replace them with non-specific aspirations for Maine jobs and reduced utility rates, I voted in the narrow 69-67 majority to accept the committee report of Ought Not To Pass.

Concealed weapons permitting
During the debate on LD 222: An Act Designating the Chief of the State Police as the Only Issuing Authority of a Permit To Carry a Concealed Handgun which was favored by a bipartisan 12-1 report from the Criminal Justice Committee, I voted in the  76-59 majority in opposition to an amendment which rose abruptly on the floor in an effort to completely remove any requirement for a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Thursday, March 27:

Charter school funding
Met with Commissioner Rier to discuss mutual goals regarding implementing state-level charter school funding.  Commissioner Rier says Governor will veto any proposal which sets charter school funding at the same 97% rate of EPS allowed to public school districts.

Ocean Acidification Study
By a remarkable unanimous roll call vote, the House approved final passage of the ocean acidification legislation that I cosponsored, LD 1602: Resolve, Establishing the Commission To Study the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Its Potential Effects on Commercial Shellfish Harvested and Grown along the Maine Coast

Bond hearings
For the afternoon I attended the Appropriations Committee’s public hearings on bond proposals that I have cosponsored and which would potentially bring $23 million in state support to projects on Mount Desert Island. These include:

University system funding cuts

Final disposition of casino bills

Friday, March 28:

Taxing non-profits
In the morning session, the House debated LD 936: An Act To Authorize Municipalities To Impose Service Charges on Tax-exempt Property Owned by Certain Nonprofit Organizations which seeks to allow municipalities to assess additional charges on certain large non-profit organizations such as colleges and hospitals. While I sympathize with the hardships municipal taxpayers are facing, I understand that most nonprofits already make payments in lieu of taxes and are assessed service charges for water and sewer.  Restoring municipal revenue sharing and refueling the circuit breaker program also seem to me to be more direct ways to relieve local tax burdens.  Moreover, this bill concerns me because it subjects only colleges and hospitals to additional assessments while inconsistently exempting others such as community and religious organizations. In the 80-57 roll call, I voted with the majority in opposition to this bill.

State bonding capacity
Afternoon attended an Appropriations Committee briefing by Mark Cyr from the Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review on the state’s bonding capacity.

Monday, March 31:

Morning session:

Franchisors vs. franchisees
On the highly-lobbied franchise bill LD 1458: An Act To Enact the Maine Small Business Investment Protection Act, the House voted 75-60 in favor of the minority committee report of Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended. I voted with the majority in favor of the minority report because I think it properly extends reasonable protections to local Maine businesses and protects them against hardships imposed by larger out-of-state corporate franchisors.

Unorganized local control
House had extended debate on another wind bill, LD 616: An Act To Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission which seeks to allow residents of the Unorganized Territories to control wind development in their respective regions. As a former resident of the Unorganized Territories, I ended up opposing this bill because I don’t see UT residents as politically disenfranchised by state-level planning any more than residents of a specific neighborhood within a municipality are disenfranchised by decisions made by their greater municipality. I also believe that the state has a greater obligation to support renewable energy in Maine. But my vote was in the minority.  The Ought-Not-To-Pass vote failed by a vote of 48-89.

Afternoon session

On premises sales of raw milk
In a difficult series of votes on LD 1786: An Act To Allow the Sale of Unregulated Farm-produced Dairy Products at the Site of Production, by a vote of 66-71, the House first failed to accept the committee’s majority report of Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended.  While I have severe reservations about unpasteurized milk, I voted in the minority in support of the committee in respect for the hard work that they had done to find a compromise which supported small farmers.  After that motion failed, I joined the 71-65 majority in voting Ought Not To Pass.

Mining rules
On the mining rules bill, LD 1772: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 200: Metallic Mineral Exploration, Advanced Exploration and Mining, a Late-filed Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Environmental Protection, the House voted 98-39 to accept the Majority Ought-To-Pass-As-Amended report which rejects the administration’s proposed new mining rules.  I voted with the majority in opposition to the proposed new rules because I believe they inadequately protected ground water from mining operations.

Teacher evaluations move forward
On my evaluations bill, LD 1747: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education, by a vote of 100-34, the House voted to accept a clarifying floor amendment. Essentially, I take this to indicate the current level of support for the bill in the House, a substantial bipartisan majority but not quite sufficient for the two-thirds needed for emergency enactment.

Alexander report

Tuesday, April 1:

Offshore tax havens
After extended debate, by a vote of 86-58, the House supported the Tax Committees report of Ought-To-Pass-as Amended report on LD 1120: An Act To Improve Maine’s Tax Laws which would ensure that multinational corporations no longer shelter their Maine profits in offshore tax havens. I voted in the majority because I think it is unfair for large corporations with the resources to dodge taxes to have a tax advantage over local small businesses.

Single-payer health care
House also debated LD 1345: An Act To Establish a Single-payer Health Care System To Be Effective in 2017 and voted 91-52 to accept the committee report of Ought-To-Pass-as Amended.  This bill would commission a study to propose ways to ensure that all Maine citizens have access to quality affordable health care. I voted with the majority because I think the current system is critically unsatisfactory.

Teacher evaluations in Senate
Without debate or a roll call, the Senate gave initial passage to LD 1747, the teacher evaluations bill.

Commission reconsiders second virtual charter school application
The Maine Charter School Commission met to reconsider the application for a second virtual charter school.

Wednesday, April 2:

Inflated calculation for education funding
At my request, the Appropriations Committee is keeping alive a carryover bill, LD 25. for further consideration. I have continued to advocate for this bill because it seeks to remove the unfunded actuarial liability for retirement costs from the state’s annual calculation of the total cost of education.  I support removing the unfunded actuarial liability because it is a figure that has much more to do with how Maine has financed all state operations over the last 20 years than anything to do with actual teacher retirement costs.  The previous legislature voted to add the UAL to the calculation largely just to inflate the appearance of state support for education.

Governor’s vetoes
LD 1597: An Act To Clarify Provisions of the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act The veto override vote was 129-12, so the veto was overridden.  As this was a unanimous bipartisan report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

LD 1685: An Act To Ensure That All Maine Children Are Protected from Abuse and Neglect. The veto override vote was 136-6, so the veto was overridden.  As this was a unanimous bipartisan report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

LD 1365: An Act To Promote New Models of Mobility and Access to Transportation. The veto override vote was 119-25, so the veto was overridden.  As this was a unanimous bipartisan report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

Teacher evaluations continuing…
LD 1747: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Chapter 180: Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education. Enactment vote was 97-45, three votes short of those necessary for emergency enactment.  Bill tabled for reconsideration as a non-emergency.

After that vote, I met with Minority Leader Ken Fredette to explain reasons to support the teacher evaluations bill and to offer sufficient time for House Republicans to consider, discuss, and get comfortable with the policy.

Late afternoon discussion with Governor’s policy advisor Tom Desjardins on teacher evaluations bill. Desjardins suggested that Governor’s office has no objection to bill as amended as long as Department of Education has no objections. After that, I arranged for a morning meeting with Commissioner Rier and Senator Langley.

Thursday, April 3:

Morning meeting with Commissioner Rier and Senator Langley re evaluations rules. The Commissioner has no fundamental objections to my bill and will communicate that to Republican leadership and caucus.

Afternoon committee session

Committee review of MEPRI policy reports

  • Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Maine
  • Developing College Readiness Indices for Maine High Schools: An Exploratory Study
  • Effective Strategies for Engaging Parents in Students’ Learning to Support Achievement

Committee review and endorsement of MEPRI work plan for 2014-2015

  • School funding issues
    • Analyze strategies used by other states to address teacher salary gaps
    • Analyze type, cost, and effectiveness of different Maine early childhood education programs
    • Examine summer learning loss and impacts of summer school programs
    • Analyze extent, format, and uses of collaborative professional development time
  • Continue monitoring development and impacts of teacher and principal evaluations systems in Maine
  • Continue monitoring implementation of Standards Based Education in Maine

Afternoon House session

Lake protection
On LD 1744: An Act To Protect Maine Lakes, the House voted unanimously in support.

Property Tax Fairness Credit
On the bill that I cosponsored with Speaker Eves, LD 1751: An Act To Provide Property Tax Relief to Maine Residents, the House approved the committee report of Ought To Pass As Amended and gave the bill initial passage without a roll call.

LD 1813: An Act To Hold an Advisory Referendum on Tax Reform was a bill proposed by the Governor to put a referendum question on the June ballot asking if voters want to cut taxes.  By a vote of 86-55, the House rejected this bill.  I voted in the majority because I believe that similar referenda have been repeatedly defeated at Maine polls and because decisions about spending are what we are elected to negotiate in the legislature.

Welfare bills

LD 1829: An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs requires the Department of Health and Human Services to report annually to the Health and Human Services Committee regarding actions taken by the department to investigate program integrity under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food supplement programs. By a vote of 92-52, the House voted to accept the committee majority report of Ought To Pass As Amended.  I voted with the majority because I believe that, rather than passing new laws to restrict welfare benefits to poor people, the state already has the tools to detect and prevent welfare fraud.  This bill would aid in transparency of the administrations efforts to curtail speculative fraud.

LD 1822: An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures (Governor’s bill) prohibits the use of the electronic benefits transfer system at tobacco specialty stores. It requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop an education program for recipients of benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that emphasizes that those benefits are to be used for supporting dependent children and are not to be used to pay for tobacco products, liquor products, gambling activities, lotteries or bail. By a vote of 83-61, the House voted to accept the majority committee report as amended.  I voted with the majority in respect for the committee’s work and because the bill as amended avoids more impractical, unproductive, and potentially unconstitutional limitations on federal and state welfare funds.

LD 1842: An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (Governor’s bill) removes the 24-month limit on education, training and treatment for participants in the Additional Support for People in Retraining and Employment-Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and eliminates the Parents as Scholars Program.  By a vote of 85-53, the House voted to accept the committee’s report of Ought Not To Pass.  I voted with the majority because I believe that these educational programs have been proven to be highly-effective in helping individuals and families out of temporary hardship.

LD 1815: An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (Governor’s bill) prohibits applicants from receiving support through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program until they can demonstrate that they have applied for at least three jobs.  By a vote of 70-62, the House voted against this bill.  I voted with the majority against the bill because most recipients of TANF funds receive them in crisis situations of sudden job loss or domestic abuse and the law already requires them to look for work.

LD 1820: An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers (Governor’s bill) would prohibit a recipient of benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from using an electronic benefits transfer card, or EBT card, outside of Maine, either at an automated teller machine or for an electronic point of sale transaction. By a vote of 78-55, the House voted to accept the committee’s majority report of Ought To Pass As Amended which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a report on out-of-state access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program benefits.  I voted with the majority because I understood from the Attorney General that the original bill was unconstitutional and because the administration’s figures suggest that the details of out-of-state use of TANF are not well understood and that the state has the tools already to prosecute any actual instances of fraud.

FY 2014 supplemental budget

Friday, April 4

Tax shifting General Assistance
LD 1844: An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance (Governor’s bill) would reduce state support for General Assistance in excess of 0.0003% of a municipality’s property valuation from 90% to 50%.  Without a roll-call, the House accepted the committee’s report of Ought Not To Pass.

Attempt to resurrect Maliseets’ gambling bill
LD 1319: An Act To Authorize a Federally Recognized Indian Tribe in the State To Benefit from the Operation of an Existing Casino. Action: Joint Order to recall from the legislative files.  With a two-thirds vote required, the vote was  76-65. So the bill remains dead in the legislative files. While I did vote for this bill originally, I voted in the minority in opposition to resurrecting the bill because the legislature disposed of all the gambling bills this session in favor of a better, more comprehensive planning process for establishing gambling facilities and I think this is a better approach.

Veto overrides
LD 1552: Resolve, To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Initiate a New Rate-setting Procedure for Preschool Services for Children with Disabilities under the MaineCare Program. Veto override vote was 91-51, insufficient to override.  As this had been a bipartisan majority report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

LD 1798: An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force Convened by the Maine Labor Relations Board Regarding Compensation for the Panel of Mediators. Veto override vote was 86-56, insufficient to override. As this had been a unanimous bipartisan report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

LD 1642: An Act To Clarify the Law Governing Public Disclosure of Health Care Prices. Veto override vote was 138-4, sufficient to override.  As this had been a bipartisan majority report out of committee, I voted with the majority to override.

Local food hubs
LD 1431: An Act To Support School Nutrition and Expand the Local Foods Economy. The vote was 118-23 to accept the committee report of Ought To Pass as Amended. I voted with the majority because I think this bill will benefit both local agriculture and local school food programs.

Cutting public lands for heating assistance
LD 1838: An Act To Expand Affordable Heating Investments with Maine’s Public Resources (Governor’s bill).  Vote was 89-53 to accept the committee’s majority report of Ought Not To Pass. I voted with the majority in opposition to this bill because I think that forest harvesting on public lands should be sustainable and based on good silvicultural planning rather than political expedience.

Mandating municipal Inventory of abandoned roads
LD 1177: An Act To Implement the Recommendations from the Discontinued and Abandoned Roads Stakeholder Group. Fails 50-92, indefinitely postponed. Having heard objections from local municipal government about the requirements for each municipality to establish an annual inventory of road statuses going back to 1965,, I voted with the majority in opposition.

Costs of virtual education
LD 1617: An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Approval Process for and the Operation of Virtual Public Charter Schools in the State. This bill seeks to review the cost components of virtual education in order to establish what the proper public reimbursement rates should be for them. Vote was 86-55. I voted in the majority in support of the bill.

Reviewing tax loopholes
LD 1463: An Act To Examine Best Practices Relating to Tax Expenditures directs the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation to examine best practices relating to tax expenditures. The committee will examine various approaches to tax expenditures, including but not limited to placing a cap on tax expenditures and developing expenditure budgets, in order to determine the best way to achieve the goals of tax expenditures in the most effective and efficient manner possible and to ensure transparency and accountability. 101-41. I voted with majority in support because currently the state exempts more tax revenue than it collects and there is no annual review of the effectiveness of those exemptions.

Afternoon session

Patent trolls revisited
LD 1660: An Act Regarding Bad Faith Assertions of Patent Infringement. The vote to Recede and Concur with Senate version which includes exception for big pharma was 105-28. I voted in the minority because I oppose the amendment to the bill which carves out an exception for big pharmaceutical companies without any explanation as to why the exemption is either necessary or good policy.  To me, this seems a plain example of the bad influence of big money in politics.  Without the exemption, the bill would provide the necessary and reasonable protections to banks and credit unions.  Only fear of a veto by the Governor allowed this exemption to enter the bill and caused this bill to advance in this form.

More discussions on teacher evaluations bill
Afternoon discussions with Minority Leader Representative Fredette, Governor’s policy advisor Tom Desjardins, fellow committee member Representative Pouliot, and Commissioner Rier re evaluations bill.  Hope to bring this bill to a vote again in the House with substantial bipartisan support.

Legislative report: Performance pay for legislators, gambling, and non-ionizing radio frequencies

Monday, March 3:

The Legislature’s Select Committee on Workforce and Economic Future formally voted to recommend my bond bill which would benefit development projects at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Lab.

The Education Committee’s ongoing work to improve college affordability got urgently redirected into a letter to Appropriations opposing proposed cuts to higher education funding including:

  • diverting casino revenue statutorily dedicated to scholarships
  • “across the board” percentage decrease to Community College, University System, Maine Maritime, and Maine State Grants for scholarships administered by the Finance Authority of Maine
  • Eliminating the sales tax exemption on purchases made by private colleges

The Education Committee opposes because these measures work in opposition to our current efforts to improve college affordability for Maine students via the Senate President’s bill LD 1703 and my ‘Pay Forward, Pay Back’ college tuition bill, LD 1702.

Afternoon, I participated in a panel discussion about charter schools taped for The Maine Event with Hannah Pingree and Senator Roger Katz. The other panelists were Senator Brian Langley, Representative Karen Kusiak, and charter school advocate Cheryl Clukey. The program, Pingree & Katz The Maine Event, will broadcast on Time Warner cable on March 25th.

In the afternoon our Committee had hearings on two bills: LD 1768 An Act To Allow All Veterans To Be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates and LD 1747 on the teacher evaluation rules.

The Marine Resources Committee voted unanimously in favor of LD 1602, the bill to study ocean acidification which I have co-sponsored.

The state Charter School Commission rejected two charter school application including one of the two virtual charter school applications operated by K12 Inc.  The Commission approved the other virtual charter application, the one operated by Connections Academy.

And here is the most recent research on learning at virtual charters which outlines many of my reservations::

Tuesday, March 4:

In the morning, Adjutant General James Campbell addressed a joint session of the Legislature to report on the state of Maine’s National Guard.

In the afternoon, the Education Committee worked on the portion of the school funding model that indexes local school funding on the basis of local labor markets.

This is one of the perennially contentious parts of the formula because it suggests that it’s appropriate to have lower teacher salaries in regions which pay their teachers less.  However, there is also an argument to be made that, because it’s a regional average, the same mechanism provides the poorest districts with proportionally more state subsidy than it does to their wealthier regional neighbors.

In the end, our committee concluded that the labor market indexes should be updated and maintained to reflect the most current salary data and to separate the matter of how better to ensure that adequate state resources are directed to schools with higher numbers of economically-disadvantaged students.

Wednesday, March 5:

In our morning session, the House debated LD 1541: An Act To Ensure That Legislators Share the Sacrifice with Civil Servants in the Event of a State Government Shutdown

As the title indicates, this was a bill freighted with more politics than reasoned policy and support divided along nothing like party lines.

Proponents argued that if legislators are unable to settle on a state budget and state government shuts down, then it’s only fair that legislators should have their compensation proportionally reduced.  Much of this sentiment was born out of resentment against the US Congress during the federal shut-down last fall.  And, as with many populist themes, a vote on this inspired fear among many legislators that a vote against this bill would be used against them in fall campaign mailers.

On the other hand, implementing the bill would have little practical effect because legislative pay period lasts only through the regularly schedule session.  So, if there is a personal financial incentive for legislators to complete the budget, it’s already in effect as no one is getting paid after the first week of June.

Moreover, as the State Constitution protects the Governor’s salary, making legislative pay contingent on a budget agreement would only put the Legislative branch at a greater tactical disadvantage in relation to the Executive branch in the event of a budget veto by the Governor.

Last, and most compelling to me, it seems wrong to suggest that better policy would result from linking it directly to lawmakers’ compensation.  Legislators should be making policy decisions on the basis of their consciences, their constituents, and the best interests of the state — not by how much money their votes put in their pockets.  It seems a short leap from this proposed policy to one that links legislative pay to how many (or, perhaps conversely, how few) bills get enacted in a session.  Ultimately, legislators should be answerable to their constituents, not the benefit to their bank accounts.

So I was in the minority that voted consistently against this bill.  The Senate felt less compunction than the House majority, however, and killed it outright.

Shortly afterward, I found myself again in the minority on a vote on LD 1521: Resolve, Directing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry To Create a Pilot Program To Support the State’s Small Food Processors.

This bill had prompted some constituents to write to me expressing their support and I agreed that the bill’s concept which sought to assist small local food processing businesses with developing business plans.

The House also failed to find the supermajority of votes necessary to advance LD 156, a Constitutional amendment which would have streamlined early voting in municipalities which wish it.  Bar Harbor’s Town Council had officially endorsed this bill.

The House also advanced LD 1230, the bill to expand the services that dental hygienists may provide under the supervision of a dentist.

Afternoon, the Education Committee heard hearing testimony on LD 1780: An Act To Prohibit Providers of Cloud Computing Service to Elementary and Secondary Educational Institutions from Processing Student Data for Commercial Purposes.

Unusually for our committee, this bill drew lawyers from both Microsoft and Google and it quickly seemed evident that this was part of a larger battle between corporations whose concern about student privacy was secondary to their respective business visions.

Late afternoon, I joined in a video conference with staff from ILearnOhio, a public consortium that makes virtual learning available through Ohio public schools in a way that seems similar to what Senator Langley and I are proposing for Maine.  The content includes market rate virtual courses from charter school providers like K12 Inc and Connections Academy.  But it also includes simple individual lessons and units aligned to Ohio’s learning standards and available to all at no local cost.

For me the telling figure was that Ohio makes these lessons available to 1.8 million students at an annual operating expense of $1.5 million.  Compare this to Maine’s proposed virtual charter school which proposes to make similar content available only to several hundred Maine students at a cost of about $3 million.

Thursday, March 6:

Breakfast meeting with Women, Work, and Community an organization to which a surprising number of local constituents have attributed the success of their own home business.

I continue to have breakfast and lunch meetings with representatives of Maine School Management and the Maine Education Association to discuss concerns they have regarding the proposed teacher evaluation rules.

In our morning caucus, we were briefed on the Appropriations Committee’s process and expectations regarding adjustments to the FY14 and FY15 budgets.

The legislature has a slew of gambling bills before us including:

As a state, Maine has had a particularly haphazard approach to gambling and no comprehensive planning to ensure prudent public outcome. Instead, gambling facilities have been approved and disapproved sporadically by referendum.  Licenses that the state has subsequently issued have been resold at enormous private profit and many promises of public benefit remain unfulfilled.

Because of this, there is a strong argument that, rather than approving more individual gambling facilities as proposed in these bills, the state should first develop a comprehensive plan and vision that ensures consistent public benefit.

This essentially was the position of the majority of the oversight committee, a perspective which I largely share.

But there is a countervailing argument of economic fairness against the status quo in relation to the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet proposals in Washington and Aroostook Counties.

Had Maine not already licensed gambling facilities in Bangor and Oxford, I would have found it easy to vote against all of these individual gambling bills.  But given the present disproportionate regional assignment of these locally lucrative licenses and the economic hardship already faced in eastern Washington County and Southern Aroostook County, I ended up voting in support of LD 1520 and LD 1298.

Both these facilities will still be subject to local referendum and both will provide revenue to the state on the same terms as the Bangor and Oxford casinos.

As the other gambling proposals require no referenda and propose to return different amounts to the state, I oppose them.  Advocates for the two bills connected with harness racing framed the proposals as subsidizing local agriculture.  But harness racing already receives a share of the proceeds from the Oxford casino — approximately $10 million dollars per year — while the state’s General Fund receives only about $8 million from the same source.  The harness racing advocates with whom I spoke couldn’t explain how that subsidy is currently directed and used. So I am not inclined to support additional subsidy.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 24-11 on my bill LD 1736 Resolve To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.  Within an hour the Governor vetoed it.

Afternoon, our Committee continued to work on our committee school funding bill, reviewing the discussion on regional cost adjustments, grants for professional development, and increased subsidy for economically disadvantaged students.

In the afternoon a majority on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee endorsed LD 1744, An Act To Protect Maine Lakes and opposed the state’s proposed new mining rules proposed in LD 1772.  These are both bills in which many constituents have expressed interest.

Friday, March 7:

In the morning, I sat in on the Appropriations Committee’s hearing on ‘across the board’ cuts proposed by the ‘Rosen Report’.

In the afternoon, I attended Appropriations’ briefing by Sawin Millet and Commissioner Rier on the Governor’s new proposal to replenish the state’s budget stabilization account.

After that, I met with Commissioner Rier to discuss ideas for state funding of state-approved charter schools and my proposed amendments to the teacher evaluation rules.

I also discussed my teacher evaluation amendments with Maine School Management.

Monday, March 10:

Morning, Committee work sessions on our Government Evaluation Act Review of the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.

Work sessions followed on LD 1774: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 115: Certification, Authorization and Approval of Education Personnel, a Late-filed Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education and LD 1768: An Act To Allow All Veterans To Be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates

Afternoon, brief work session on our Committee bill to recommend ways to improve higher ed affordability followed by a hearing on LD 1638: An Act To Improve Educational Outcomes for Students in Poverty in Maine’s Public Schools, a bill promoted by the Maine Education Association.

Tuesday, March 11:

My bill clarifying the terms of non-resident student transfers, LD 1591, became law without the Governor’s signature.

Morning, represented the Education Committee at the morning meeting of Committee chairs.

In our morning session, the House Voted 95-47 in favor of LD 1252: Act To Improve Maine’s Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy, a bill which had interested many constituents.

The House also spent much time debating LD 1013: An Act To Create the Children’s Wireless Protection Act which seeks to require warning labels on cell phones about potential danger from radio frequencies.

This was another bill for which support cut across party lines.  Essentially, proponents favor labeling cell phones as potentially hazardous on the basis of the ‘precautionary principle’ even though evidence of such dangers have not been established.

Opponents argue that requiring such labeling will almost certainly make the state liable for significant court costs from likely judicial injunction against the bill on Constitutional grounds of interfering with the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.

I voted against the bill because of its basis in bad science.  At 68-71, the House vote was close and I was in the minority.  The bill now goes to the Senate.

Afternoon, we had a final work session on the Education Committee’s funding bill.  We also discussed my proposal for state charter school funding.  The Committee will take further recommendation on this from Commissioner Rier and expects to put forward a separate bill on the topic.

Wednesday, March 12:

The Maine School Boards Association voted in support of my proposed amendment to the teacher evaluation rules.. I asked our Committee’s analyst to re-draft my amendment to reflect a composition of local stakeholders’ group that assures both teachers and school districts with effective voice.

In the morning session, the Senate held a long debate on LD 1487: An Act To Implement Managed Care in the MaineCare Program, the MaineCare expansion bill.  The bill passed but the vote total was short of the two-thirds required to override the Governor’s expected veto.

The House will debate and vote on this bill on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 13:

Snow day…

Friday, March 14:

Morning, I attended the Government Oversight Committee’s quasi-judicial hearing with Maine Center for Disease Control officials about allegations of document shredding in relation to last year’s grant awarding process for Healthy Maine Partnerships.

As the Committee narrowed in on questions about who directed both the rescoring of the award-granting methodology and the subsequent destruction of supporting documents, answers increasingly trailed off into the passive voice: “…There was concern” “…There was no expectation.” “…There was a belief.” “…Attention was brought.”

Some staffers described the destruction of documents as merely “version control” a term that’s new to me and which rings more of NewSpeak than DocumentHygiene.

Afternoon, I attended the Appropriations work session at which the majority voted to amend the the Governor’s recent bill  LD 1807: An Act To Restore Funding in the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund through Alternative Sources.

The amendment accepts the Governor’s proposal whole and also restores some of the funding cuts proposed in the ‘Rosen Report,’ including the cuts to public college scholarship grants and cuts to General Purpose Aid to education.  The amendment accomplishes this in part by using casino revenue initially directed to supplement education in order to eliminate the GPA cut proposed by the Governor’s report.

Legislative report: Jan 21 – Feb 28

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Morning, House session.

Afternoon, committee briefing from Department of Education on Committee bill re responses to Picus report on Maine school funding and priorities to improve EPS school funding model.  Department also presented its efforts to support and strengthen prekindergarten and other early childhood education programs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Breakfast with Independent Schools Association

Morning, committee briefing from Maine’s STEM Council. Briefing from Dept of Agriculture on implementation of LD 409: An Act To Establish a Veteran-to-farmer Training Pilot Program

Morning, committee briefing on committee bill for Baxter School for the Deaf transportation issues.

Morning, committee work session on LD 1361: An Act To Strengthen the Teaching of Writing and Mathematics and Improve Maine High School Graduates’ College and Career Readiness. Committee voted Ought Not To Pass.

Morning, committee briefing from DoE on unfunded mandates.

Afternoon, committee briefings on new reports from MEPRI/CEPARE:

Thursday, January 23:

Morning, House session.

Lunch meeting with the Maine Islands Coalition.  Discussed concerns about impact of dredging at the Searsport marine terminal (which I support) and localized problems with propane supply.

Afternoon, committee hearing on LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units,  my non-resident student transfer bill.

Afternoon, committee work session on LD 1530: An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education

Afternoon, Judiciary committee work session on LD 1194: An Act To Protect Social Media Privacy in School and the Workplace prohibiting employers’ and schools’ requirements to disclose social media passwords.  Committee voted ought not to pass.

Monday, January 27

Morning, committee language review on Baxter school for the deaf transportation bill; committee letters on LD 409 An Act To Establish a Veteran-to-farmer Training Pilot Program; committee bill language review on LD 1530: An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education.

Morning, committee work session on LD 1361 An Act To Strengthen the Teaching of Writing and Mathematics and Improve Maine High School Graduates’ College and Career Readiness (Committee voted Ought Not To Pass.)

Morning, committee hearing on LD 1716: An Act To Increase the Rate of Reimbursement for Providing Career and Academic Advising and Counseling Services to Adult Education Students

Afternoon, committee hearings on LD 1684: An Act Regarding Eligibility of Children Placed in Guardianship for the School Lunch and Milk Program; LD 1699: An Act To Fund the Maine HIV Prevention Education Program within the Department of Education; and LD 1630: An Act To Increase Transparency of Administration Costs within the University of Maine System

Tuesday, January 28

Visit from 18 College of the Atlantic students from professor Ken Cline’s Introduction to Legal Process class who visited with individual legislators working in areas of the students’ interests and attended work sessions.

Morning, House session debate on dental bill

And George Mitchell addressed the legislature:

Afternoon, committee work session on LD 369: An Act To Redesign Maine’s School Funding Model.  Committee referred this bill along with a committee recommendation to the Taxation Committee which will also hear my other bill, LD 1751: An Act To Provide Property Tax Relief to Maine Residents.

Afternoon committee work session continuing on school funding bill components of early education costs.

Late afternoon, facilitated a meeting with legislative leadership and administrators from the MDI Bio Lab to convey the Bio Lab’s expanding vision for research and development particularly related to tissue regeneration and commitment to education and development of an entrepreneurial scientific community.

Wednesday, January 29:

Morning, committee panel discussion of college affordability with members of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Morning committee hearings on LD 1703: An Act To Increase College Affordability and the Rate of Degree Completion; LD 1702: Resolve, Directing the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System To Study the Establishment of a Pilot Program Based on Oregon’s “Pay Forward, Pay Back” Model of Funding Public Postsecondary Education

Visit from Linda Fuller’s College of the Atlantic class on Negotiating Educational Policy

Afternoon, committee briefing on State Board of Education’s Government Accountability Act report.

Afternoon, committee work session on my bill LD 1591 An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units. Committee unanimously voted Ought To Pass as Amended.

Thursday, January 30

Morning, House session debate on LD 156: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine Concerning Early Voting and Voting by Absentee Ballot a constitutional resolution to allow early voting — would simplify and streamline the process of voting early, easing work for town clerks who now must process all absentee ballots on election day.  Would allow, but not mandate, municipalities to use this practice.  The Bar Harbor Town Council passed a resolution in favor of this bill and I voted for it.

Lunch with Child and Family Opportunities, a Head Start program providing high-quality early care and education for Hancock and Washington Counties

Afternoon, committee work session on  early education components of committee’s school funding bill.  Also briefed on Jobs for Maine Graduates based on last session’s LD 370 Resolve.

Monday, February 3

Morning, attended Select Committee on Workforce and Economic Future’s informational hearing on LD 1756: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support the Growth of and To Build Infrastructure for the Marine and Biotechnology Sectors of the State’s Economy in Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future with representatives from the MDI Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Lab.

Morning, committee hearings on LD 1681 An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Gambling and Criminal History Record Checks. Work session on LD 1635 An Act To Clarify the School Budget Development Process in Certain Charter Municipalities which, at the request of the sponsor, we voted Ought Not To Pass.

Afternoon, committee hearings on LD 1726: An Act Directing the Department of Education To Formulate and Implement a Citizenship Educational Component for the School Curriculum; LD 1727 An Act To Establish Guidelines for the Stocking and Administration of Epinephrine in Schools; LD 1728 An Act To Prohibit Possession of a Replica or Simulated Firearm on or near School Property.

Tuesday, February 4

Morning, House session.

Lunch meeting with Maine Conservation Commission workers associated with marine surveys at the MDI Bio Lab and trail building on the Schoodic peninsula.

Afternoon, committee hearing on my bill on creating a public virtual learning collaborative, LD 1736: Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.

Here is my supporting testimony: Testimony in support of LD 1736 and implementing a public virtual learning collaborative

Afternoon, committee work session on school funding in relation to economically disadvantaged students and federal Title 1 funding.

Evening, Governor’s State of the State Address.

Wednesday, February 5

Snow day.

Thursday, February 6:

Morning, House session. Debate and vote on restoring $40M in municipal revenue sharing via LD 1762.  I voted in favor.

Afternoon, committee work session on components of committee’s school funding bill related to Title 1 federal funding and targeted funding for economically disadvantaged students.

Friday, February 7

Monday, February 10

Morning, meeting with Speaker Eves to discuss upcoming bills.

Morning, committee work sessions on LD 1684 An Act Regarding Eligibility of Children Placed in Guardianship for the School Lunch and Milk Program (Committee voted Ought Not To Pass); LD 1699: An Act To Fund the Maine HIV Prevention Education Program within the Department of Education (Committee voted Ought to Pass.); and LD 1681: An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Gambling and Criminal History Record Checks (Committee referred bill to Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.)

Lunch, meeting with Maine Islands Coalition.

Afternoon, committee hearings on LD 1716: An Act To Increase the Rate of Reimbursement for Providing Career and Academic Advising and Counseling Services to Adult Education Students and LD 1630: An Act To Increase Transparency of Administration Costs within the University of Maine System

Tuesday, February 11

Morning, House session with final votes on municipal revenue sharing.  LD 1762 restores these amounts of state revenue sharing:

Bar Harbor: $80,309
Cranberry Isles: $1,457
Mount Desert: $19,297
Southwest Harbor: $33,326
Lamoine: $22,748

Afternoon, work session on my bill LD 1736: Resolve To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.  Committee voted 11-2 Ought to Pass as Amended.

Wednesday, February 12

Morning, committee hearing on LD 1657: An Act To Ensure Equity in Teacher Retirement Costs for Private Academies and confirmation hearing for Commissioner of Education.

Afternoon, committee confirmation hearings for Governor’s other appointees.

Thursday, February 13

Morning, after debate, by a vote of 92-45, the House overrode the Governor’s veto of LD 1353: An Act to Further Reduce Student Hunger.  I voted to override.

Afternoon, committee work session continuing discussion of school funding for economically disadvantaged students.

Tuesday, February 18

Morning, by a vote of 84-56, the House gave preliminary approval to LD 168: An Act To Establish Reasonable Restrictions on the Use of Fireworks.  This was essentially a compromise bill in complement to LD 111 which sought an outright state-wide ban on fireworks but failed to get majority support.

Recognizing that towns already have the authority to ban fireworks (as do all the towns within District 35), LD 168 allows further restriction by the state in the event of fire danger and gives law enforcement tools to deal with fireworks usage as a public nuisance.

I voted in favor of LD 168 and against LD 111.

Lunch meeting with Senate President Alfond to discuss upcoming bills.

Afternoon, committee work session on school funding bill components related to economically disadvantaged students.

Monday, February 17

Presidents’ Day holiday.

Tuesday, February 18

Morning, House session.

Afternoon, committee work session continuing on discussion of school funding components for economically disadvantaged students.

Wednesday, February 19

Morning panel briefings on higher education affordability related to my bill LD 1702 Resolve, Directing the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System To Study the Establishment of a Pilot Program Based on Oregon’s “Pay Forward, Pay Back” Model of Funding Public Postsecondary Education and President Alfond’s bill LD 1703 An Act To Increase College Affordability and the Rate of Degree Completion

Morning, attended public hearings at Taxation Committee and presented testimony in favor of my bill LD 1751: An Act To Provide Property Tax Relief to Maine Residents and also LD 369 An Act To Redesign Maine’s School Funding Model, the Education Committee’s bill supporting funding a income-based state-funded property tax relief with an equivalent benefit to the previous circuit-breaker program.

Afternoon, committee work session on same higher ed affordability bills.  After much discussion, requested higher ed stakeholders to return with prioritized list of specific policy recommendations by March 3.

Thursday, February 20

Breakfast with representatives of Students First who wanted to assure that they were interested in more than just charter schools and union busting — and that funding for disadvantaged public school students was also an emerging priority.

In morning session, after lengthy floor debate, by a vote of 89-52, the House voted down LD 1428: An Act To Protect Religious Freedom, which sought to allow, on the basis of religious belief, discrimination currently prohibited under Maine’s Human Rights Act.

I voted against the bill as state and federal law already has statutory and constitutional protections for religious freedom and because proponents could offer no examples in Maine where such freedoms have been infringed.

Afternoon, committee work session on LD 1728 An Act To Prohibit Possession of a Replica or Simulated Firearm on or near School Property.  Divided report from the Committee with 11 members voting Ought Not To Pass and three voting in favor of the explicit civil prohibition.

I voted in opposition to the bill essentially for three reasons:

  1. It is already a criminal offense to brandish or threaten with a replica weapon and this bill sought to criminalize just possession.
  2. School policy already may (and certainly should) prohibit mere possession of replica weapons. And, as a replica weapon doesn’t constitute an actual physical danger, I don’t view their prohibition as a direct matter of public safety.
  3. While the bill’s proponents argued that a criminal or civil penalty would enable school resource officers to place troubled, replica-possessing minors into otherwise inaccessible social services, I believe that mechanism itself is troubling and indirect.

Monday, February 25

Expand access to online learning for all Maine students, Op-Ed authored with Senator Langley

Morning, Committee work session on school funding for professional development and collaborative time.

Afternoon, work sessions on LD 1726: An Act Directing the Department of Education To Formulate and Implement a Citizenship Educational Component for the School Curriculum (11-2 divided report: Ought Not To Pass) and LD 1727: An Act To Establish Guidelines for the Stocking and Administration of Epinephrine Autoinjectors in Schools (Unanimous: Ought To Pass as Amended)

Tuesday, February 25

The House gave an initial vote of 139-7 in favor of LD 297: An Act To Require Forest Rangers To Be Trained in Order To Allow Them To Carry Firearms.

I voted for this because the rangers overwhelmingly testified that they believed they needed firearms for safety and are willing to be subject to the same firearms training requirements through Maine’s Criminal Justice Academy as other law enforcement officers.

House floor speech in favor of LD 1736: Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

Afternoon, committee work session continuing on school funding for economically disadvantaged students.

Wednesday, February 26

House and Senate enacted my bill LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units.  This bill was enacted unanimously and  without controversy in the legislature.  We’ll see what action the Governor takes.

The Legislature also enacted another bill that I worked on, LD 783: An Act To Change the Voting Requirements for the Withdrawal of a Municipality from a Regional School Unit which allows school units coerced into reorganization under the penalties of the 2008 legislation to withdraw by a simple majority vote but maintains the present requirement for a high threshold of voter turnout.  Older school districts reorganized under the 1960s law are still required to have a two-thirds vote to dissolve.

Afternoon, committee briefings on assigning financial responsibilities for costs of transportation for Governor Baxter School for the Deaf and the Maine Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Briefings on school security and head injuries.

Thursday, February 27

House voted down amendment seeking to remove virtual charter school moratorium from my bill LD 1736: Resolve To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

My floor speech opposing this amendment: Why a moratorium on virtual charter schools is integral to providing Maine students with access to online learning through their existing schools

Afternoon, committee work session on school funding for professional development and collaborative teaching time.

Friday, February 28:

Morning, along with representatives from the MDI Biological Lab and Jackson Lab, I attended the Select Committee on Workforce and Economic Future’s work session on my bond bill LD 1756: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Support the Growth of and To Build Infrastructure for the Marine and Biotechnology Sectors of the State’s Economy.

Among other bond components, the committee agreed to recommend the inclusion of $5M for projects at the MDI Bio Lab and $15M for a project at Jackson Lab.

Afternoon, I met with staff at Maine School Management to discuss their concerns around Department of Education’s proposed Chapter 180 teacher evaluation rules which will be subject of a committee hearing on LD 1747 on Monday.

Why a moratorium on virtual charter schools is integral to providing Maine students with access to online learning through their existing schools

27 February 2014
Representative Brian Hubbell, Bar Harbor
On motion to indefinitely postpone House Amendment ‘B’ to Committee Amendment ‘A’ to LD 1736

Mr. Speaker, Women and Men of the House:

I realize that, at this moment, it appears that the good Representative from Augusta and I are standing on opposite sides in this chamber.

But, Mr. Speaker, I want to assure you that I regularly share his frustration at what it takes here to advance good policy by forging alliances of variously committed and reluctant interests.

I do know that many across the spectrum in this House have real reservations about the unequivocably poor record of virtual charter schools in other states and who doubt whether virtual schools represent a wise and effective use of increasingly scarce public funding.

But I also know that many with those reservations also struggle along with the Representative from Augusta with sincere misgivings about whether a temporary pause in the implementation of virtual charter schools really advances the best interest of Maine’s students.

Because I believe those misgivings deserve an honest airing, I thank the Representative from Augusta for putting this matter before the House for consideration and I will do my best to directly explain why the moratorium is integral to the bipartisan comprehensive merits of this bill.

But first let me remind the members that the first phase of this bill immediately makes available content from the same providers that propose to serve Maine’s virtual charters schools via New Hampshire’s established virtual learning academy. This content will become available in September to all Maine students, not just those who see virtual charters as their only option.

Second, let me restate that we don’t have unlimited public resources and that it is our responsibility as legislators to ensure that public education dollars are spent as effectively as possible to the benefit of all Maine students.

Third, I implore those, like the good Representative from Biddeford — who have argued here passionately and forcefully that competition between educational options can drive educational improvement — to recognize the evidence of progress that is before them and which arguably validates their own position.

Mr. Speaker, three years ago, when this body was debating the implementation of charter schools in this state, how many here would have predicted that we would now have local school superintendents like Ken Coville from RSU 74 passionately leading by example and advancing a state-wide virtual learning exchange to share blended virtual content between all Maine students — in public schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschoolers?

How many here would have expected the MEA to recognize and commend the success of innovative state-run virtual academies like those in New Hampshire, Vermont and Ohio?

How many here would have expected to find Maine School Management proposing to expend its own local resources to develop a partnership with a charter school in New Hampshire?

As a state, we have called on our public schools to innovate and broaden opportunities for Maine students. With this initiative, they are responding.

Ironically, in the subsequent three years since Maine introduced charter schools, the frame of the status quo has shifted to the point where those throwing sand into the gears on this bill are the representatives now protecting a different set of hard-won special entitlements.

Most disappointing to me — two years after the Chief Executive’s order to expand digital learning to all Maine students — was hearing testimony from staff at the Department of Education that they currently doubt their own ability to implement such a state-wide vision. despite the successful examples in states that are moving forward elsewhere.

So I believe this moratorium is necessary because it provides incentives in both direction to move us off a current, different status quo.

We’ve had two years under the Chief Executive’s Executive Order to give all Maine students broad access to digital learning and two years later that promise remains unrealized.

Here, our obligation remains to ensure that all Maine students have access to the promise of expanded digital learning — even those whose parents lack the luxury of serving as full time learning coaches within the virtual charter programs.

We need to be able to answer the blended learning needs of the community of all Maine students, not merely offer digital learning via isolated virtual charters and then empower public schools and their taxpayers to do nothing more than foot the bill

Unfortunately the moratorium is necessary to bring together the stakeholders to move digital learning forward in Maine. This bill already has brought together productive efforts from the school boards, superintendents, and public school teachers that some here have characterized as reluctant defenders of the old status quo.

But to be successful we need even broader commitment from the Department of Education whose representatives have told us that they lack the ability on their own to implement a digital learning exchange similar to what is moving forward successfully in other states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Ohio.

Women and Men of the House, change is hard and it takes both leadership and partnership.

It’s time to light a fire to reenergize the Department of Education’s efforts on digital learning for all. This bipartisan support behind this bill recognizes the value both the promise of digital learning and the value of providing an incentive to motivate real accomplishment.

We owe it to all the students across this state — on Frenchboro, Islesford and Matinicus, in Calais, Jonesport, Biddeford, Sanford, Auburn, Augusta Skowhegan, Embden, Greenville, Houlton, in Caribou — we owe it to all Maine students to move forcefully and deliberately, comprehensively and equitably, to realize the promise of the Chief Executive’s original exectuve order and expand the digital learning opportunities for all Maine students.

Please join me in support of preserving that comprehensive effort in the current bill.

House floor speech in favor of LD 1736: Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Representative Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor
House floor speech in favor of LD 1736: Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

Mr. Speaker, Women and Men of the House:

Just over two years ago, our Chief Executive issued an Executive Order giving the Department of Education one year to develop a plan to expand digital learning opportunities available to Maine students.

Unfortunately, constraints of resources and time have kept the Department from realizing the Governor’s vision and the greater community of 180,000 Maine students is still missing the real promise of accessing the growing world of digital learning opportunities through Maine’s public schools.

This bill will kickstart that effort by charging Maine’s schools immediately to negotiate an agreement with New Hampshire’s successful Virtual Learning Academy to provide content to students through Maine schools and under the oversight of Maine teachers.

This bill further charges the Department of Education and Maine’s public education stakeholders to collaborate in developing a state-wide exchange — informed by those already in operation in other states — for Maine schools to access and exchange both locally- and globally-produced digital content — from single lectures and units to full term-length classes — in order to more efficiently meet the greatest range of student learning needs.

As this Chamber well understands, we owe it to Maine taxpayers to employ state funding for education as efficiently and effectively as possible. For less than the 3 million dollar cost of a single virtual charter school which would exclusively educate only a handful of specially interested students, this bill offers access to digital learning to all Maine students — full time, part-time, private-schooled, and homeschooled.

Please join me in support of this bipartisan bill and in support of the Chief Executive’s vision for broader more customized learning opportunities for all Maine students.

Testimony in support of LD 1736 and implementing a public virtual learning collaborative

February 4, 2014

Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald, esteemed colleagues on the Education Committee, I am Brian Hubbell, representing House District 35, Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, and Mount Desert and I am here before you as the lead co-sponsor and earnest supporter of LD 1736, A Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.

Like you, for many years I have been alternately excited and concerned about the prospects of virtual learning in Maine.

Back sometime in the early 90s, I registered for an adult ed class at Narraguagus High School that gave me access to a bewildering frontier of DOS-based distance learning and for many happy evenings I wandered essentially at random through a variety of remedial Latin exercises with no apparent beginning or end.

Over the past few years, as a school board member and a parent, I’ve observed intelligent and highly-motivated students who had tapped out local high school offerings flounder with frustratingly limited success to navigate advanced independent virtual classes on their own without the association or assistance of live teachers.

Most recently, in MEPRI’s objective evaluation of charter schools, we have received confirmation of our concerns via the 2011 CREDO study about the subpar performance of virtual charter schools.

And yet, there is no doubt that the proven success of blended learning offers real promise and compelling incentive for Maine to implement a thoughtful and comprehensive model for collaborative virtual learning.

So, with gratitude to Senator Langley, I am deeply committed to the success of this bill because I believe that Maine students need us to provide them with an effective platform for online learning.  And I believe that we can learn much from the proven successes of public virtual collaboratives in our neighboring New England States.

By broadening blended learning opportunities for all students — not only those who are struggling or limited by traditional classes but also those who are home-schooled or traveling — a state virtual academy would serve many more students than a virtual charter school.  Most importantly, students would benefit from having a Maine teacher available to them at both ends of the wire.

We are offered unique opportunity here to build on the successes both of Vermont’s Virtual Learning Collaborative and New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy.  New Hampshire has expressed interest in exploring a partnership with Maine which offers promising opportunity for quick implementation.

Beyond that, this bill offers Maine the chance to thoughtfully develop a truly collaborative model that suits a wide range of students and a promising way for Maine school to efficiently share good practices in effective distance learning.

Please join me in support of this bill.

Cited references:

Testimony introducing bill clarifying terms for non-resident student transfers

Testimony of Rep. Brian Hubbell
LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units
Before the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs

Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald, and fellow distinguished members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I am Representative Brian Hubbell. I am here to introduce LD 1591: An Act To Amend the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units.

As you will recall, last session, via LD 530, the Legislature amended the statute regarding school superintendents’ transfers of non-resident students. This change—which received an unanimous report from this Committee and was enacted under the hammer in the House and with unanimous roll call in the Senate—simply intended that superintendents document the reasons for their decisions regarding transfer requests in order to inform any subsequent process of appeals.

In our committee’s policy discussion, no one advocated altering the threshold for valid non-resident student transfers. The amended statute, therefore, deliberately retains the following permissive language: Two superintendents may approve the transfer of a student if the transfer is in the student’s best interest.

Unfortunately, following guidance issued by the Department of Education, some are now reading the amended statute as a requirement that all transfer requests must be approved unless superintendents can explicitly prove that such a transfer is not in the student’s best interest.

This interpretation represents an inconsistency between the long-established permissive language in the statute which allows certain flexibility in non-resident transfers based on specific circumstance and this new, much more stringent interpretation—which essentially requires a non-resident transfer or else a problematic proof of a negative.

Should this newer, inconsistent interpretation prevail, I am concerned that the result will weaken local support for community schools as resourceful parents increasingly request to transfer their children to schools funded by adjoining towns while tolerating inadequate local funding within their own tax jurisdictions. At the same time, receiving schools will face increasing burdens for the wholesale education of non-resident students at their own expense.

The long-term consequence would likely be an increase in inequality of educational opportunity for Maine students rather than overall improvement.

The bill before you today would clarify the original intent of this committee, and the Legislature, when it passed LD 530, in the first session. It would do so simply by striking the clause ‘that the transfer is not in the student’s best interest’ and thereby ensuring that superintendents have the authority to approve or deny a transfer request.

This, I believe, is the essential and necessary part of this bill.

Beyond that, if this committee finds it useful to ensure consistency in relation to the determination of students’ best interest, the bill provides a framework for the consideration of student needs.

A second, related provision proposes that if the transfer is denied and an appeal filed, this bill would require the Commissioner of Education to uphold the decision of the superintendents unless the commissioner determines that the decision to deny the transfer was ‘arbitrary and capricious’, a specific legal term of art, in which case the commissioner may overturn the denial and approve the transfer.

If the Commissioner of Education upholds the denial decision, an appeal may still be submitted to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education must deny the transfer unless the board determines that the decision was arbitrary and capricious, in which case the board may approve the transfer.

A third provision in this bill, for the practical benefit of the State Board, extends the period of time they have to hear an appeal from 30 days to 45 days to avoid the necessity of scheduling a special meeting.

This issue of non-resident student transfers is a significant concern to many local school boards and their taxpayers. I strongly encourage you to join me in support of this legislation.

Legislative report: January 8 – 20, 2014

Wednesday, January 8

Your legislature’s second session opened today.  A large group including many local constituents rallied at the State House in favor of expanding access to health care for uninsured accepting federal funds for Medicaid.

Following on Picus Associates’ Independent Review of Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Funding Act, over the next two months our Committee will be dedicating two work sessions per week on a bill to improve Maine’s school funding model.

As we begin that work, I have outlined my own Priorities for improving Maine school funding

Related to one of the recommendations in the Picus report, I am also participating in a bipartisan subcommittee charged with formulating the Education Committee’s recommendation regarding income-based property tax relief to replace the ‘Circuit Breaker’ program which was gutted in last session’s budget negotiations.

Thursday, January 9

Our Committee had a working lunch presentation on early childhood education programs and funding.  This was followed by an afternoon work session at which we were briefed on a new report from MEPRI on the relationship between poverty and education.

Friday, January 10

Representative Kumiega and I offered our perspectives on this legislative session on Ron Beard’s public affairs program ‘Talk of the Towns’ on WERU.

Tuesday, January 14

Attended a Maine Development Foundation breakfast presentation updating legislators on the federal Affordable Care Act.

In our morning session, the House narrowly overrode the Governor’s veto of LD 1254 An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions but fell short in an effort to override the Governor’s veto of LD 963 An Act to Expand Access to Early Postsecondary Education.  The Governor has indicated that he supports the substance of this latter bill which received a unanimous report out of our committee and passed the legislature last session without controversy.  But his veto means that we will have to restart the process with a new round of hearings.

In the afternoon, our bipartisan education subcommittee met to flesh out a recommendation to use a concept bill, LD 369, to work jointly with the Taxation Committee to “improve the level of benefit to property taxpayers in the replacement ‘property tax fairness program’ at least equal to that of the ‘circuit breaker program’ a year ago.”

This parallels the intention of another bill, as yet unpublished, which I am cosponsoring with Speaker Eves.

Wednesday, January 15

In a morning work session, our committee amended LD 783, a bill I supported that proposed easing the voting requirements for municipalities to withdraw from recently reorganized school districts.  The amendment leaves in place the requirement of only a majority vote instead of a supermajority but retains a requirement for a minimum number of votes that must be cast in each community.  At the request of the bill’s sponsor, the committee also killed LD 1330 which sought another alternate pathway to teacher certification.  The committee tabled action on LD 1361 another teacher certification bill which seeks to require colleges to set proficiency standards in teaching programs and to require teachers to recertify competency in writing and mathematics.

After only the briefest discussion, our Committee unanimously approved LD 1579  a bill which makes it clear that service personnel, emergency workers, firemen, police, wardens, forest rangers, and the military are permitted to wear their respective uniforms when visiting schools.

Sawin Millett, the Governor’s finance chief, briefed the Appropriations Committee on what the Governor characterizes as a $119M shortfall in the budget.

Almost all of this figure is related to MaineCare but I was interested to follow up on the components of the $3M that was assigned to education.  It turns out that this figure represents goals for new spending that the Governor is re-proposing

  • $1.5M for industry certification of Career and Technical Education Centers
  • $1.0M for the second year of the high school to college Bridge Program
  • $450,000 for Jobs for Maine Graduates program for at-risk students

Thursday, January 16

Attended a legislative breakfast at which Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition outlined its priority bills for this session.  These include:

These last two bills I am cosponsoring.

During Thursday’s session, the House overwhelmingly overturned the Governor’s veto of LD 386, a bill expanding access to tobacco cessation programs, and then divided disappointingly along party lines and sustained the Governor’s veto of the ‘errors and omissions bill correcting what essentially are typographical errors in the budget.

In better news, the bill that I have been working on with Senator Langley, LD 1736 Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts was published and referred to our committee.  This promises a much more effective model for blending opportunities for virtual learning within Maine public schools rather than virtual charter schools operated by out-of-state private corporations.

After carrying it over for further consideration, on Thursday the Health and Human Services Committee reported out my bill, LD 535 ‘Ought Not To Pass.’  I proposed this bill to allow operators of full-care facilities like Bar Harbor’s Birch Bay Village to provide continuity of nursing services across different residential settings under a single license.  The HHS committee sympathized with my intention but had broader reservations about implications of quality assurance in facilities operated by larger corporate providers.

Also Thursday afternoon, as part of a statutory eight-year legislative review cycle, our Committee received a report from the Department of Education on their programs, organization, strategic goals and accomplishments.  This report is not yet online but the Committee has requested that the Department make this useful and informative document available.

We also received an update from the Department of Education on the implementation of the revised rules on restraint and seclusion that the committee approved last session.

Friday, January 17

With the Appropriations Committee, I attended a hearing on the so-called  Rosen Report from the administration’s Office of Policy and Management recommending budget reductions for the remainder of the current biennium.  We heard testimony from those opposed to cuts proposed to Maine Public Broadcasting and to Portland’s Welcome Center which assists refugees, many of whom arrive with valuable skills and advanced professional qualifications, with language training, networking, and professional referrals.  The Rosen Report also proposes cutting $9.5M from general purpose aid to education in the upcoming school budget cycle.

In the afternoon, I got a tour and had a brief meeting with administrators at the MDI Biological Laboratory to learn more about the Lab’s recent expansion and vision in becoming a leading education and research facility for regenerative biology and to discuss how the state might better partner with the organization in the future.

Monday, January 20

Senator Langley and I sat in with Linda Fuller’s ED117 Negotiating Education Policy class at College of the Atlantic and had an excellent round table discussion about our current work and trends in Maine education policy.  It was particularly interesting to hear from students from Belgium and the Czech Republic about what they admired about American education in comparison to their home country.


Last, I have had conversations with several constituents who have run into difficulty with home heating suppliers, particularly related to LP gas.

For those of you who may be facing extraordinary financial hardship for heating, I recommend contacting either on the web or by dialing 211.

For those who may be having difficulty with particular suppliers, I recommend contacting the Maine Energy Marketers Association at (207) 729-5298.

Relationships Between School Poverty and Student Achievement in Maine

January 15, 2014

Dr. Silvernail,

Thanks for your presentation to our committee last Thursday on your invaluable report ‘The Relationships Between School Poverty and Student Achievement in Maine.’

In committee, we never seem to have enough time for deeper inquiry, so I’ve noted some things that have stuck with me in re-reading.  I hope at some point we can have further discussion along these lines.  In the meantime, I wanted to share my questions with you.

  • What evidence can give us confidence that standardized test scores have validity as measures of ‘achievement’ in relation to overcoming the disadvantages of poverty?  Or are we using those measures only because they are what we have?  Ought we also to be measuring supplementary things like engagement, extracurricular participation, graduation or college matriculation rates?

  • Does the data represented in Fig 8 really represent a significant difference of economically-disadvantaged educational attainment in relation to school structure or is it just corroborating that the differential increases over time for the impoverished?  (Assume it does because chart presents test scores of just 8th graders rather than whole school.]

  • Given that K-8 schools are likely more common in less densely populated poorer districts and middle schools are more likely in more densely populated affluent districts, how are the test scores in Fig 8 also affected by district spending levels?

  • In a typical small Maine school, what is the overall common one-year fluctuation in test scores?  How does this compare to the relative range of a school’s test scores as a function of poverty or as a function of school spending?

  • How much does the correlation of per-pupil spending as a function of school size overlay the effect of school spending on economically disadvantaged students?

  • How could we test a hypothesis that the apparent lack of correlation between increasing spending and increasing economically disadvantaged test scores is masked by differential spending in poorer areas because of inefficiency of scale as opposed to actual differences in educational programming?

  • What would we learn from a chart of economically-disadvantaged test scores over a broader period of time arrayed against per-pupil spending adjusted for school size?

Priorities for improving Maine school funding

Following the state’s receipt of the Picus report on Maine school funding and Picus Associates’ proposed alternative ‘EB Model’, here are my recommendations on how we on the Education Committee should proceed:

EB vs EPS: modeling the comprehensive cost of adequate equitable educational opportunity:

  • Retain concept of Essential Programs and Services in concept as basis of model that is evaluated as level of funding necessary to give all students the opportunity to meet the evolving Maine Learning Results.
  • Employ EB model and Picus report as intermediate evidence of present adequacy and inadequacy of present EPS model — with immediate priority given to:
    1. Representing professional development and collaborative time necessary to implement proficiency-based learning.
    2. Implementing expanded capacity for universal voluntary early education.
    3. Ensuring equity of opportunity for economically disadvantaged students and communities by reevaluating:
      • EPS labor market ratios vs. Comparable Wage Index.
      • Validity of EPS economically-disadvantaged adjustment.
      • EPS assumptions about augmentation of Title 1 federal funds.
  • Recommit to ongoing, rolling, evidence-based evaluation of components of EPS.

EQUITY AND CAPACITY: distribution of funding:

  • Collaborate with Taxation Committee to improve local equity in school funding by revitalizing state-funding of income-based circuit-breaker property tax refunds.
  • Link minimum special ed subsidy percentage (currently at 30% and originally targeted at 100%) directly to state’s progress towards meeting obligation to fund 55% of education.
  • Provide state-level funding for state-approved charter schools.
  • Remove unfunded actuarial liability from state calculation of the cost of education.


  • Advocate for adequate overall level of state funding for education towards 55% of 100% of EPS.

Legislative year in review and priorities ahead

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Wishing you all a healthy and prosperous new year as your legislature gears up for another season, I want to recap some of the successes and disappointments of the last session and also to share my goals for the upcoming one.

Successes of the last session

While surely there was something in the result for everyone to dislike, successfully negotiating a bipartisan state budget and passing it with supermajority over the Governor’s veto certainly was the legislature’s most important accomplishment.

Specifically, in the budget I was proud of successfully advocating for an increase in state school funding of approximately $58 million, partially restoring some of costs of education that the state regularly has shifted to local municipalities since 2008.

Secondarily, and also representing a hard-won compromise, the omnibus energy bill on balance was a productive effort towards major gains in energy conservation and efficiency — even though Maine’s ocean wind power development became a casualty in overriding the Governor’s veto.

It also was gratifying finally to complete repaying the debt owed to Maine hospitals even though we were unable to take care of the other side of the hospitals’ liabilities by reducing their exposure to uncompensated medical care and extending federally-funded health insurance to 70,000 uninsured Mainers.

Failures of bipartisanship

After the legislature reached essential coherence around the biennial budget, it was disappointing to see the body retreat back into the disarray of partisan self-interest following the Governor’s unprecedented 82 vetoes.  It was especially disappointing to see the legislature betray volumes of hard bipartisan work by finding the necessary two-thirds votes to override on only five of the Governor’s 27 vetoes of unanimous Committee reports.

More disappointment stemmed from our inability to better temper the cuts in municipal revenue sharing and the consequent burden in increased property taxes. The legislature further aggravated the regressive pain by failing to support property tax relief through the “circuit-breaker” income tax credit program.

Two other education-related bills on which I worked diligently also foundered on the legislative rocks of partisan suspicion.

One was a bill that would have approved state rules for teacher evaluations.

A stakeholders’ group had met to work on this rule for nearly a year without reaching consensus on the extent which measures of ‘student achievement’ appropriately should constitute measures of ‘teacher effectiveness.’  Anxiety surrounds this issue not only for teachers (whose compensation and continuing employment is to be statutorily linked to this effectiveness rating) but also for school policy people (who fear that creating incentives to raise a narrow set of standardized test scores will result in blighted overall student learning and a distortion of educational mission at a time when Maine is attempting to broaden learning through collaborative teaching).

At the same time, to many educators it seems appropriate to evaluate teacher effectiveness liberally in relation to student learning rather than just against standard proxy measures of professional “teacher-like” behavior.

This bill, LD 1542, put our committee in unusual disarray with a majority report (favored by most committee Democrats) that proposed to set a ceiling for measures of student learning at 20% of a teacher’s effectiveness rating and a minority report (favored by committee Republicans) which sought to set 25% as a minimum floor.

Although I was unable to persuade any committee members to join me, I sought a middle way by offering a third amendment which would have limited the employment of standardized test scores but also allowed local school districts, in consensus with their local teachers’ associations, to define their own measures of student learning and growth without limit in rule.  Some on both sides objected to this approach, holding that extending such latitude came at the expense of statewide consistency.

With the bill worked late and coming to a vote in the heat and untidiness of the final day of the session, the majority report failed to receive sufficient votes for emergency passage and the bill died, a frustrating but predictable outcome.

Charter school funding was the other issue that came to unfortunate grief on the shoals of partisan mistrust.

LD 1057: An Act Related to Funding of Charter Schools would have offered charter schools funding comparable to local community public schools as calculated through the state’s overall school funding formula but would have had the state directly pay the full load as it currently does with the Maine School of Science and Mathematics magnet school in Limestone.  WIth charter school funding essentially taken off the top of state educational funding, this would effectively spread the expense of charter schools across all Maine public schools rather than have the costs deducted from the operating budgets of local school districts in which individual charter students reside.  This seems generally fair as it is the state that is approving these new schools, not the local school districts and their taxpayers.

However, while there was bipartisan agreement about the concept of state funding, partisan disagreement arose over whether the state spending on charter schools warranted discrete itemization as a miscellaneous cost within the state budget.  In the end, the Governor vetoed the bill in order to avoid subjecting charter school funding to any portion of the public scrutiny that public schools endure.

I spent a full week trying to persuade charter school stakeholders and the Governor’s senior policy advisors that this bill was in everyone’s best interest but, despite a final effort from the House floor, the legislature sustained the Governor’s veto.

Priorities in the legislative session ahead

The mixed success of the last session left many of us on both sides reflecting on the frustrations of the effective stalemate between the Governor and the legislature.   With an election year ahead, partisan polarization is likely to threaten even well-considered policy work.  But I remain committed toward keeping the conversation open with my colleagues in order to realize some progress in areas in which I believe we truly share common interests that can benefit the state.

Budget and school funding

Above all else, I hope to assist in stewarding a responsible supplemental budget. Conventionally, the Governor would offer this supplemental adjustment to the biennial budget in order to align with updated state revenue figures.  But, so far, Governor LePage is declining to do this.  Even so, I am confident that the legislature will approach this responsibility to the state collectively in good faith.

Related to the bigger budget picture, the last legislature commissioned an independent study of educational funding in Maine.  From the review, we have learned that, compared with other states, Maine provides a relatively equitable distribution of school funds but that the overall level of funding remains inadequate to meet our established learning goals.

Specifically the report makes the case for expanded early learning through universal voluntary pre-kindergarten.  The report also suggests that Maine’s funding model shortchanges professional development for teachers at a time when we have accelerated critical expectations for student learning.  Last, there is reason to believe that Maine’s current funding model could better represent the necessary allocation of supplementary resources to economically disadvantaged students across the state.

In that light, we also have confirming evidence that the localized hardships created by over-reliance on property taxes to support schools is more efficiently remedied through direct income-based property tax relief, rather than by tinkering crudely on a district level with alterations to Maine’s school funding formula.

Because of this, I am co-sponsoring with Speaker Eves a bill comprehensively restoring the circuit breaker program and, with others, I hope to renew the state’s commitment to municipal revenue sharing to counter the shift from state to local taxation.

I also hope to revisit the concept of state funding for charter schools in order to replace financial burden and relieve antagonism from local public community school districts.

I hope also to work with a few others toward implementing a state virtual learning collaborative  which would allow public school students, under the guidance of local teachers, to have expanded access to courses shared between school districts.

I am also shepherding a bill carried over by Appropriations which would remove the unfunded actuarial liability for teachers’ retirement from the state’s calculation of the present cost of education.  This figure is much more the result of previous legislative decisions on how to finance state government and has no relation to the normal costs of teacher retirement and therefore is used inappropriately to represent the state’s contribution towards the current costs of schools.

With Senator Langley, I am co-sponsoring a bill to more equitably allocate the normal retirement costs of teachers at the private town academies. Under current law these retirement costs are unfairly borne entirely by public funds.

Teacher evaluations and educational policy

Having worked over the interim as a school board member with MDI’s steering committee on teacher evaluations, I intend to keep protect space in the state’s rulemaking to ensure that local concerns are heard and that similar legitimate local efforts to develop evaluations systems are honored.

I have also sponsored a bill to better define the process by which non-resident students may be approved to attend other school districts.

With Senator Katz, I am cosponsoring an important resolve to study the funding of post-secondary public education modeled on Oregon’s ‘Pay Forward, Pay Back’ program.

Energy, climate, and environment

With Senator Vitelli, I am cosponsoring a bill encouraging solar energy development.

WIth Representative Devin, I am cosponsoring a resolve to study the ocean acidification and Its effects on commercial shellfish.

With Representative McClellan, I am cosponsoring a bill to mitigate against invasive milfoil in Maine lakes and, with Senator Saviello, I am cosponsoring a bill that accelerates the product stewardship program for safe disposal of paint.

Healthcare and medical services

My bill to allow more seamless and efficient continuity of medical home care at facilities like Birch Bay Village operated by hospitals has been carried over by the Health and Human Services Committee in order to ensure adequate quality and oversight of these services.

In addition, I will be supporting Speaker Eves’ continuing effort to expand medical coverage under the MaineCare program to adults who qualify under federal law with incomes up to 133% of the income poverty line and qualify Maine to receive federal funding for 100% of the cost of coverage.

Biotechnology and marine research and development

With Speaker Eves, I am cosponsoring a bond to develop infrastructure to support Maine’s marine and biotechnology sectors and, with Senator Jackson, I am cosponsoring a bond proposal to develop Maine’s lobster processing capacity.

I am grateful to all of you for your continued trust in me as your representative.  As always, I remain eager to hear your thoughts and concerns regarding these policy issues and others facing our state.

With gratitude,


Concerns re proposed teacher evaluation rules

Subject: Comments re proposed rule Chapter 180, “Performance Evaluation and Professional Growth Systems.”
Date: November 24, 2013
To : Deborah Friedman, Director, Policy and Programs, Maine Department of Education and Mary Paine, Educator Effectiveness Coordinator
From: Brian Hubbell, board member, Bar Harbor School Committee, Mount Desert Island Regional School System

As a school board member and a participant in the MDI Regional School System’s collaborative committee developing an evaluation system to meet the requirements of Chapter 508, I am relaying the following concerns of our committee members. (Please note that I am writing here as a school board member and not as a legislator.)

1) Understand and agree that there are good reasons to limit the factor of student performance on current standardized tests as an overall measure of teacher effectiveness.  But hope that the rules may permit local districts greater latitude to include other broader measures of student growth by mutual agreement.  See this as particularly important as local discussions evolve on proficiency-based learning.

2) It is critically important to encourage teacher collaboration in teaching and to recognize that the concept of ‘teacher of record’ is conceptually at odds with this effort.  Because of this, districts ought to be allowed latitude under the rules to adopt substantial student-centered collective measures of student learning which can be applied to all those who may contribute a to student’s education and experience.

3) Statewide consistency has its merits but the rules should permit substantial local authority to determine effective evaluation systems.  Giving authority to local voices from both school boards and teachers’ associations would also relieve much unwarranted anxiety about the implementation of evaluation systems.

4) Think it’s unfortunate that the evaluation system is explicitly tied to decisions on compensation and dismissal because this unnecessarily drives much of the rest of the anxiety about the rules.  Have no doubt that the discussion around the rules would be much more open and less defensive were these links not statutory.  But acknowledge this is a consequence of the law not the rules.

5) Concern about requiring a percentage that needs to be factored in to a teacher’s “score”.

6) Concern that the rule as written will not permit alternate means of looking at student growth beyond standardized growth measures and Student Learning Objectives.

7) Concern about the validity and reliability of SLOs. Feel that student performance on common assessments will be a more powerful lever in a standards-based system.

8) Concern about how to hold specials teachers and others beside classroom teachers responsible.

9) Concern about insistence on “teacher of record” when it is clearly a team effort to support student success.

10) Concern about insistence on a four point scale — how about “at least” a four point scale.

11) Concern that the bill ‘commoditizes’ teacher effectiveness and requires decisions about teacher pay and hiring/firing to be based, in part, on ratings.

12) Concern that the bill undermines standards-based education

13) Concern that the bill and the Rule will take a lot of teacher and administrator time with little to show for it

14) Fundamental concern that LD 1858 or the Rule will not actually result in improved teaching and learning and that they have the potential to undermine serious efforts to improve teacher supervision and evaluation in ways that support individual and collective accountability and effective use of data.

15)  Even so, absolutely believe in improving teacher supervision and evaluation and believe in our collective accountability to ensure that students are growing at least a year’s worth of growth each year — more if a student is behind.

Nonresident student transfer bill request

To: Speaker Eves, President Alfond, Distinguished Members of the Legislative Council,
From: Representative Brian Hubbell, Bar Harbor
Date: November 4, 2013
Re: Appeal of Legislative Council decision on LR 2478: An Act To Correct an Inconsistency in the Process Controlling the Transfer of a Student between School Administrative Units

Policy Background

Last session, via LD 530, the Legislature amended the statute regarding school superintendents’ transfers of non-resident students. This change — which received a unanimous report from the Education Committee and was enacted under the hammer in the House and with unanimous roll call in the Senate — simply intended that superintendents document the reasons for their decisions regarding transfer requests in order to inform any subsequent process of appeals.

In our committee’s policy discussion, no one advocated altering the threshold for valid non-resident student transfers. Therefore the amended statute deliberately retains this permissive language: Two superintendents may approve the transfer of a student if the transfer is in the student’s best interest.

Inconsistent interpretation

However, following guidance from the Department of Education, apparently some are now reading the amended statute to require the approval of all transfer requests unless superintendents can explicitly prove that such a transfer is specifically not in the student’s best interest

This interpretation represents an inconsistency between the long-established permissive language in the statute which allows certain flexibility in non-resident transfers based on specific circumstance and this new, much more stringent interpretation — which essentially requires a non-resident transfer or else a problematic proof of a negative.

Consequence to taxpayers and community schools

Should this newer, inconsistent interpretation prevail, the result seems likely to weaken local support for community schools as resourceful parents increasingly request to transfer their students to schools funded by adjoining towns while tolerating inadequate local funding within their own tax jurisdictions. At the same time, receiving schools will face increasing burdens for the wholesale education of non-resident students at their own expense.

The longer term consequence is likely to be increased inequality of educational opportunity for Maine students rather than overall improvement. This issue is an immediate concern to most local school boards and their taxpayers.

Emergency request

So, in order for our policy committee properly to review and rectify this issue, I ask that the Council allow this bill request for the upcoming session.

Representative Brian Hubbell, House District 35:
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert

State should supplant local funding for state-enabled charter schools

[House floor speech urging override of Governor’s veto of LD 1057: An Act Related to Funding of Charter Schools, July 9, 2013]

Mr. Speaker, Men and Women of the House,

Most members here, I believe, at this point recognize the problem at the root of the perennial cat fight in this state over the past few years between public community schools and public charter schools.

Under the current arrangement, we in Augusta authorize new charter schools and set the policies and governance structures under which they operate.

But, rather than then also backing these schools up with funding, we stick local school districts — and the property taxpayers that support them — with the balance of the bill — all this without giving them a voice in either the approval or the operation of charter schools — a circumstance that many see as taxation without representation — particularly as more and more communities find themselves supporting two schools while having authority over only one.

This bill would fix that fundamental flaw by having the state take responsibility for funding the schools that it approves by sharing the balance of the burden for that funding across all of GPA — fully, equitably, and reliably funding charter schools just as we attempt to do for all public schools.

And, Mr. Speaker, for most of this session, I believed that, in relieving this chronic tension and solving this underlying cause of the charter school finance squabbles, this would be the bill that our Education Committee, unanimously, would be most proud of.

Through a mechanism proposed by the Commissioner of Education himself, this bill would fund charter schools through the same formula as every Maine public community school — and fully — some skeptics here would caution irretrievably — integrating them into the state’s EPS calculation.

Once within the EPS formula, a charter school’s funding would be as insulated from legislative whim as any other public school.

A vindictive future Appropriations Committee couldn’t curtail funding specifically for the Cornville charter school any more than they could specifically target Bangor for cuts.

From then on, for better or worse, charter funding would rise and fall on the fortunes of state resources through GPA exactly as it does for every Maine public school.

Rather than being at each other’s throats, one can then imagine the Maine School Management and the Maine Charter School Associations jointly testifying — hand-in-hand at Appropriations hearings — reinforcing a common case for holding the line on comprehensive state educational funding.

Up to this point in the bill, I presume to say that there is no dispute either within the Education Committee or with the Commissioner of Education about the merits and desirability of this bill.

But, under this bill, one important distinction does remain between the funding of community schools and charter schools.

Charter schools would get funded — not at an average of 45% of EPS, as are community schools — not even at the elusive 55% of EPS towards which the state struggles.

Charter schools would be fully funded at 100% of EPS.

So we’re left with the challenge of how to report this new category of expenditure for total school funding in the budget.

The single controversial point in this bill is whether or not charter school funding should be visible as a component within the state’s calculation of the Total Cost of Education within the budget document.

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, there is no dispute over either the mechanism or the calculation of the funding level for charter schools.

There is only a dispute over whether transparently representing this cost within the budget document somehow places charter schools in political jeopardy.

Mr. Speaker, for the explicit purpose of transparency, by statute, we require local school districts to report their budgets in 11 cost centers — in agonizing boilerplate — and we require a separate public vote on each of these cost centers at school budget meetings.

Then, considering even that insufficient, we require a second separate public vote by referendum at which we require every budget article to be prominently posted at the polling place.

We do that because we believe transparency is essential to good public process.

So, in my view, the single question before us with this bill is: Should the state funding of charter schools be transparently reported as an ordinary component within the state’s calculation of the Total Cost of Education?

Or should it instead be hidden within some sort of Black Ops section of the Department of Education’s budget?

Mr Speaker, are we for transparency in state spending or are we not? I say we are and I ask that you vote in support of this bill.

Veto accounting

Governor’s vetoes, through 7/09: (82)

Number of unanimous committee reports which drew vetoes: (27)
(LDs 49, 146, 319, 387, 434, 521, 555, 559, 610, 670, 1093, 1129, 1132, 1201, 1235, 1271, 1306, 1315, 1342, 1349, 1362, 1366, 1383, 1390, 1509, 1533, 1559)

Number of unanimous committee reports drawing vetoes which were sustained: (22)
(LDs 49, 146, 319, 387, 434, 521, 555, 610, 670, 1093, 1129, 1201, 1235, 1271, 1306, 1315, 1342, 1349, 1362, 1366, 1383, 1533)

Number of vetoes overridden by the House, then sustained by the Senate: (10)
(LDs 49, 851890, 1032, 1044, 1231, 1263, 1271, 13661390)

Number of vetoes overridden by the Senate, then sustained by the House: (0)

Number of vetoes overridden by both the House and the Senate: (5)
(LDs 415, 559, 1132, 1509, 1559)

Number of vetoes ultimately sustained: (77)

Legislative update and review of some controversial bills

Dear Friends and Neighbors in House District 35,

Your state legislature finished up the bulk of its business last week, adjourning at 2:00am on Thursday morning. 

We will reconvene on Wednesday to respond to the veto of the state budget that the Governor has promised.  At this point, I am assuming that substantial bi-partisan support of our budget will translate into sufficient votes for an override.

In the interim, I want to update you on some of the more controversial bills that we worked on this past session.  Those recaps follow below.

As always, please let me know your thoughts on these issues and if you think I should have better represented you differently.  I appreciate all your thoughtful communications with me over the course of this year’s session.

Best wishes,



Accepting federal dollars in support of expanding MaineCare and containing health insurance costs

LD 1066: An Act To Increase Access to Health Coverage and Qualify Maine for Federal Funding, as has been widely reported, was essentially a showdown between the Governor and the legislative majority over the benefits and liabilities of extending access to health care to 70,000 uninsured Mainers.  

In one of the most dramatic votes of the session on the final day of regular business, with a vote of 98-51 the majority failed by three votes to override the Governor’s veto.  I voted for the bill.

LD 161: “An Act To Prohibit a Health Insurance Carrier from Establishing a Separate Premium Rate Based on Geographic Area” requires health insurance carriers to use only one rating area based on geography within the State when establishing rates for individual and small group health plans issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2015.

This bill would remedy some of the changes to the insurance law PL 90  made in the last legislature which resulted in many local businesses in rural areas of the state like ours  receiving unusually large health insurance premium increases.

The bill, which I co-sponsored, passed in both the House (83-57)  and Senate.  It faces a likely veto from the Governor.

Early voting and ranked choice voting

LD 156: Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine Concerning Early Voting and Voting by Absentee Ballot proposes to amend the Maine Constitution to allow qualified voters to vote early.

The resolution passed 90-50 in the House but requires two-thirds for final passage. Presently sits on the Appropriations table pending review for funding for the required referendum. I voted in favor.

LD 518: An Act To Establish Ranked-choice Voting in the State sought to create a ranked-choice voting method of determining winners in elections for Governor, State Senator and State Representative. The method simulates the ballot counts that would occur if all voters participated in a series of run-off elections and allows a voter to rank candidates according to that voter’s preferences. Each voter has only one vote and the ballot count is the same as would occur if voters participated in a series of run-off elections, with the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated after each round of counting.
This bill had fairly wide support but ran into substantial problems with the state constitution which says that elections are won by candidates receiving a plurality of votes.  If the state were to adopt rank-choice voting, this opens the door for a legal challenge by a candidate who receives a plurality in the initial vote count but ultimately loses in a ranked choice re-tallying.

Second, the constitution requires that all votes be tallied locally.  For any state office election, a ranked choice tally would require centralized vote tallies.  Beyond that, once vote counts left their municipalities and became aggregated through state-wide ranked choice there would be no way to verify through recount in the event of a dispute.

So, while ranked choice voting remains a viable option locally, implementing it state-wide requires a change in the Constitution.

Because of this, the bill died without a roll call.  Had we voted, I would have voted to accept the committee’s Ought Not To Pass report.

Drones, cameras, and privacy

LD 236: An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use was a bill that was heavily (and I think somewhat counter-productively) lobbied by the Maine ACLU, an organization for which I generally have significant affection.  The majority report from the Judiciary Committee proposed a one-year moratorium on any law enforcement surveillance by aerial drones.  (This is no inconvenience because at present no state agencies own or employ drones for surveillance.)  During the moratorium period the majority report charges these agencies to develop rules which could be used as the basis for judicial warrants to insure that any future use of drones does not violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Unfortunately, similarly to some issues touching upon patriotism, the debate devolved into a more simple-minded contest about who could demonstrate the most loyalty to the defense of Constitutional privacy.  In the end, the ACLU-supported minority report prevailed which imposes a warrant requirement without outlining a process for informing a judge about how to determine what might or might not  in fact be a proper basis for a warrant for aerial surveillance.

I voted first in favor of the majority report which failed 56-83 and then supported the bill as amended by the minority report, as this at least nominally affords some citizen protection.

The bill now sits on the Appropriations table pending more discussion about funding.

LD 415: An Act To Require a Warrant To Obtain the Location Information of a Cell Phone or Other Electronic Device prohibits law enforcement agencies from obtaining cell phone location data without a warrant based on probable cause.  It also requires them to inform the owners of phones subject to such warrants within three days unless the warrant is accompanied by judicial approval of a longer delay.

This bill was approved by a large margin of 113-28 in the House.  Despite some real sympathy for the objections of prosecutors and law enforcement who view quick access to cell location data (not phone text or voice content) as a very useful tool to screen out suspects and who pointed out that federal law already prohibits the release of location data unless a court determines that it’s relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation, I voted in favor of this bill.

LD 1040: An Act To Prohibit the Placement of Cameras and Electronic Surveillance Equipment on Private Property without the Written Permission of the Landowner seeks to prohibit anyone from recording images from an unattended camera placed on private property without the consent of the property owner or under a warrant.

This bill passed in the House without a roll call.  Had we had a roll call, I would have voted yes.

Local Option Sales Tax

LD 427: An Act To Authorize Options for Local Revenue Enhancement sought to allow municipalities the option of adding a one percent local sales tax to items sold locally that are already subject to the state sales tax.

The bill received very broad support in the House (101-48) and almost equally broad opposition in the Senate (31-4) where it ultimately died.  

Because I sympathize with the added costs of infrastructure borne by service center communities and because I regret the state’s cuts to municipal revenue sharing, I voted in favor of this bill.

Tax Fairness

LD 1113: An Act To Provide Tax Fairness to Maine’s Middle Class and Working Families was an effort to implement the “Buffett Rule” to ensure that poor Maine citizens don’t pay a higher percentage of their total income in combined state and local taxes than do wealthy Mainers.  

Under the present system, the bottom 20% of Maine’s earners pay 17% of their income in taxes while the top 1% pay just under 10% of their income in taxes.  This bill would equalize that percentage to a uniform average of 11% of income.  

The bill was revenue-neutral and restored ~$75 million in municipal revenue sharing to the budget.

The bill passed 87-48 along party lines in the House and then was killed in the Senate. I voted for it.


LD 265: An Act To Repeal the Restriction on Employers Regarding Firearms Kept in an Employee’s Vehicle sought to repeal the law that prohibits an employer from prohibiting an employee who holds a permit to carry a concealed firearm from keeping a firearm in the employee’s locked vehicle.

After much debate in the Senate, this bill came to the House with a report Ought Not To Pass. The House accepted the Ought Not To Pass report without a roll call.  Had we voted, I would have supported the same decision..

LD 267: An Act Regarding the Sale of Firearms at Gun Shows sought to close the so-called ‘gun show loophole’ by requiring that a national instant criminal background check be performed prior to the sale or transfer of a firearm at a gun show. The bill makes a gun show operator responsible for any failure to perform a required background check and subject to a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for the first violation and up to $5,000 for each subsequent such failure. The bill also required gun show operators to post signs at gun shows to notify exhibitors of the background check requirement and requires gun show operators to connect unlicensed sellers to licensed sellers who will undertake the required background checks.

The bill failed by a close vote of 69-73 in the House.  I voted in favor of the background check requirement.

LD 660: An Act To Enhance Self-defense by Removing Restrictions on the Carrying and Use of Weapons sought to remove all permit requirements to carry concealed weapons.

This bill was defeated by the narrowest of margins in the House (74-73) and by a somewhat larger margin in the Senate (21-14).  I voted to retain the permit requirement.

LD 1240: An Act To Promote the Safe Use and Sale of Firearms.  Instead of directly requiring a background check for gun sales, this bill imposes a $500 civil penalty on a gun seller who sells a firearm to a felon or domestic abuser without a background check.  The bill insulates a seller from any liability stemming from criminal use of the transferred weapon as long as a background check was employed.

This bill received majority support in the House (78-71) and in the Senate (18-17).  I voted for it.

Wind turbine permitting and omnibus energy bill

LD 385: An Act To Improve Wind Energy Development Permitting implements the recommendations of 18-month task force report, increases public participation in wind permitting, and protects important habitats.

This bill passed the House 81-61 largely on party lines. I voted for it.

LD 616: An Act To Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission, a bill which was the subject of much impassioned testimony, sought to remove five specific unorganized townships from the permitting area for wind projects and emplace a moratorium for wind projects in this region.

I favored the implementation of a broader process for public planning of appropriate development in a way that is fair and consistent across all the unorganized townships, so I voted originally for a different minority committee report which failed 49-89.  The House then supported the bill with the moratorium but the Senate sent the bill back to the Energy Committee.

LD 1559: An Act To Reduce Energy Costs, Increase Energy Efficiency, Promote Electric System Reliability and Protect the Environment is a comprehensive compromise put together by the Energy Committee to reconcile a broad range of current energy issues. It  bolsters investment in energy efficiency with a $17M increase in funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust which is predicted to return $365M in ratepayer savings through conservation.  It adds $8M in funding for converting to more efficient domestic heating systems.

Most importantly, it reforms our Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to lower our CO2 emissions cap by 45%. It also assists the University of Maine through funding for more research for engineering off-shore wind turbines.  It also allows municipalities better control over street lighting costs.  

Some will still object that the bill keeps Maine too reliant on natural gas during the transition from oil to a sustainable system based on renewable sources of energy.  The Governor vetoed the bill because he doesn’t support the state’s ambitious wind-power goals and because he wants to lift the restrictions which support local small scale renewable energy projects.

In one of our last actions at 1:00am last Thursday, the House overrode the Governor’s veto with a vote of 121-11.  The bill now awaits an override vote in the Senate.

I voted for the bill because I think it moves our state in the right direction regarding energy conservation and reliable and sustainable energy generation.

GMO food labeling

LD 718: An Act To Protect Maine Food Consumers’ Right To Know about Genetically Engineered Food and Seed Stock was the bill which generated the most email from my constituents.  The bill requires labeling of genetically modified food and seed stock sold in Maine once five northeastern states have joined in similar legislation.

The bill passed 141-4 in the House and 31-4 in the Senate. I voted for it.

Anti-choice abortion bills

LD 760: An Act Regarding Informed Consent to an Abortion would script a physician’s discussion with a woman seeking an abortion requiring the doctor to give specific alternative information about social services and paternal obligations.

Joining a 90-53 majority in the House, I voted against this bill

LD 1193 An Act To Allow a Wrongful Death Cause of Action for the Death of an Unborn Child sought to establish a fetus as an independent legal entity and to give a fetus’s heirs civil recourse to injury under the probate process.

I joined the 82-60 majority in voting against this bill in the House

LD 1339 An Act To Strengthen the Consent Laws for Abortions Performed on Minors and Incapacitated Persons sought to strengthen parental control over abortions.

This bill failed in the House by a vote of 81-61.  I voted against the bill.

All three of these bills failed in the Senate as well.

Merger of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry departments

LD 837: An Act To Clarify the Laws Establishing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry continues the consolidation of these three formerly independent state agencies which began in the last legislature.

Critics of the merger are concerned that the mission of the Conservation Department is now subordinate to the other two departments.  Proponents representing the majority of the legislative oversight committee say they have worked diligently to accommodate those concerns.  

Despite some late lobbying by a few environmental groups, along with most House members I voted in support the majority report with the hope that the missions of all three departments ultimately shouldn’t be that different. The vote was 98-47 in favor of the  merger.

Uniform building code

LD 977: An Act To Restore Uniformity to the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code seeks to extend the application of Maine’s building code to include towns with populations between 2000 and 4000.  

Proponents advocate for the benefits of uniformity in building standards and the benefits resulting from good building practice, especially relating to life safety. Opponents are concerned about the cost to smaller municipalities for implementing the regulation.

In our district, this bill would affect only Southwest Harbor as Bar Harbor and Mount Desert already employ building codes and Cranberry Isles has fewer than 2000 residents.

The vote was 74-71 in favor of the bill in the House.  A majority in the Senate opposed the requirement and the bill remains in non-concurrence between the two bodies. I voted to support this bill.

Mandatory physical activity in schools

LD 1160: An Act To Reduce Obesity among Schoolchildren sought to require 30 minutes of physical activity for elementary school students every day.

Proponents point to the significant evidence that better health and even improved learning result after regular exercise.  Opponents observe that a local school day is already packed with state mandates and that adding another just impedes a school’s ability to direct limited resources of time and money to best meet overall student needs.

This bill went back and forth between the House and Senate several times before being ultimately reconciled in a joint Committee of Conference and then, in a vote of 82-62, failing to receive the super-majority support necessary for passage as a mandate.  

This was one of the bills this session on which I was on the opposite side from most of the Democrats.  My position is that the state properly sets daily school policy only by setting the required Learning Results Standards, through providing adequate opportunity and funding based on the standards, and then perhaps by consistently measuring outcomes against the standards – but not by directly managing the local school day.

Reporting BPA

LD 1181: An Act To Further Strengthen the Protection of Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals requires large food companies to report chemicals, such as BPA, identified under the Kid Safe Products Act, used in food packaging.

This bill passed in the House by a vote of 108-37.  I supported it.


LD 1302: An Act To Amend the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act To Protect Water Quality and requires the establishment of a trust to cover the state costs of mine closures, similar to those used for landfills.  It also requires that any new mining operation in Maine not degrade present water quality. It also requires new mine operators to provide information about how many Maine jobs their operation will provide.

Opponents argued that this over-restricts future Maine mining.  Proponents favored the bill as common sense regulation of mining in response to legislation enacted in the last session and offered examples of mines operating in other states under stricter regulation.

The bill received majority support in the House (91-49) and then was narrowly overturned in the Senate (17-18).  The bill died in non-concurrence.  I voted for it.

Constitutional protection of hunting practices

LD 1303: Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Establish the Right To Hunt and Fish sought to constitutionally prevent citizen-initiated referendum altering Maine hunting laws.

This was essentially understood as a vendetta from bear hunting interests against the Humane Society which has perennially attempted to end bear-baiting by referendum.  But, more fundamentally, the bill sought to limit citizen right to self-determination through petitioning their government.  No similar activity is presently protected in the state Constitution.

Despite heavy lobbying by hunters, the Resolution was defeated 84-65 in the House and 20-15 in the Senate.  I voted against it.

Lobster by-catch

LD 1549: An Act To Provide an Exemption for Incidentally Caught Lobsters sought to allow Maine ground-fishermen to possess and sell incidentally caught lobsters.

Proponents argued that other states allow this and this bill would allow fishermen to do business in the state rather than shifting their port operations to Massachusetts and that something needs to be done for the troubled ground fish industry and the Portland fishing market.  Opponents argued that dragging damages locally well-managed lobster fisheries.  Essentially this ended up dividing geographically between southern coastal Maine and the more easterly lobstermen.

The bill was defeated 28-7 in the Senate and 106-38 in the House.  I voted against the bill.

Resolution favoring Israel

HP 1112 Joint Resolution In Support of the State of Israel states that the Maine Legislature allies itself with Israel and commends it for its struggle against the Palestinians and other enemies in the Middle East.

This caught me a bit by surprise.  Unlike most joint resolutions, this one was sponsored entirely and nearly unanimously by Republicans.  When Republican leadership called for a roll call, the intention seemed plainly to put the chamber on the defensive about being recorded as weak on terrorism.

I was one of the very few to vote against the resolution which passed the House 124-11. Afterwards many legislators told me that my vote was brave.  I didn’t see it that way.  I just abhor that sort of politics.

Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 35
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert

Report on state budget negotiations

Dear Friends and Neighbors in House District 35:

Not much sleep over the last week as we enter the closing weeks of the legislature.  We are now in day-long and evening sessions which are subject to an increasing volume of debate as we deal with more difficult and controversial bills.

Most notably,I have been privileged to work closely with the Appropriations Committee as they persisted and endured to reach unanimous bipartisan agreement on the state budget for the next two years.

As you know, the committee used my report on the structural gap in state funding for schools as leverage for increasing the education parts of the budget.  

Over several late-night and all-night sessions last week, I got to see how that effort resolved.

In conclusion, it was a very tough budget, especially around the issue of revenue.  Democrats ended up conceding their primary goal of achieving greater ‘tax fairness’ to alleviate Maine’s increasing reliance on the regressive property tax.  Republicans made significant concessions on their absolute position against any increase in state-level taxes.

All in all, the Appropriations Committee members from both parties did extraordinarily good work together.  There are things in their budget for everyone to dislike.  But I know from being there through the darkest hours that this unanimous report is an heroic accomplishment.

The legislature will vote on the budget as early as Thursday.

Here’s a summary of some of the major components of the Appropriations’ budget agreement about which some of you have expressed particular interest:

  • Increases the sales tax from 5% to 5.5% for a limited period of two years from 2013-2015. This is projected to raise $134M in revenue
  • Increases the lodging and meals tax from 7% to 8% with the same two-year sunset. This is estimated to raise an additional $45M in revenue.
  • Adds $58M in school subsidy.  (I had made the case that $73M was necessary to avoid additional cost shifts to property taxpayers.)
  • Accepts Governor’s proposal to shift liability for normal teacher retirement costs from state to local school districts but adds stronger statutory language which preserves this shift in the future only if the state ramps up aid to local schools by at least 1% per year.
  • To compensate for the retirement shift, agreed with my proposal to increase the minimum special education subsidy to minimum receivers of state aid like MDI (from 25% to 35% for FY14 and 30% in FY15).
  • Restores $125M in municipal revenue sharing – two-thirds of the Governor’s proposed cut.
  • Rejects the Governor’s cuts to General Assistance and TANF
  • Provides funding to reduce the number of people on the waiting list for the Section 21 and Section 29 waivers for Developmentally Disabled persons
  • Restores the Medicaid reimbursement rate for Critical Access Hospitals such as MDI Hospital.
  • Transfers the Women, Work, and Community Program to the University of Maine System with funding.
  • Restores the Homestead Exemption – Applies to persons under 65 years of age,
  • Replaces the property tax Circuit Breaker with the Tax Fairness credit, for which application can be made on the income tax form.
  • Restores the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement program
  • Provides Maine residents with a Maine Adjusted income of up to $40,000 per year, a refundable property tax fairness creditagainst State income taxes.
  • Restores $2.8 million for Clean Elections for legislative races only.    Funding for Gubernatorial races has been removed.   (The Republican proposal was $2.4 million, and the Democratic proposal was $4.7 million.)

Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 35
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert


Cost-shifting threatens local education

Here is an alarm: For the first time in the state’s calculation, Maine faces the prospect of insufficiently funding even the threshold costs of providing a basic education to all Maine students.

Since 2009, our state has reduced its annual contribution towards funding Maine schools by more than $60 million.  As a direct consequence, over this same period, local school districts have reduced expenditures by more than $20 million while local property taxpayers have had to raise an additional $40 million to cover the state’s shortfall.

No wonder local communities are frustrated and angry,  They are paying more than ever and their schools are still being forced to cut school programs.

Amplifying this pain, on top of a projected $6.5M increase in the ordinary costs of schools’ essential programs and services, Governor LePage proposes to shift $29 million in teacher retirement liability to local schools while allocating $14 million on ten new and expanded state initiatives, including expanding funding for homeschoolers to take college classes, extending funding for private business partnerships with schools, and a controversial new state Office of School Accountability with discretionary funding presumably informed by the Governor’s equally controversial new school grading system.

While some of these initiatives and administrative expansions may offer benefits, this spending does nothing to relieve the increasing structural gap between state aid to schools and local schools’ threshold mission to provide essential educational programs and services.

Despite the state-side savings from the retirement shift, the Governor’s budget proposal continues to underfund local school districts.  In fact it depends on local taxpayers absorbing an additional $22 million just to maintain the level of current school services.

Local taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to pay even more just to maintain essential funding for classrooms and required school programs. This additional $22 million liability conveyed by the governor’s budget is almost certain to break some of our local schools. With taxpayers already tapped out, many school districts’ only recourse will be to cut essential programs.

In this crisis, our state faces these questions:

Are we committed to providing a threshold level of opportunity for Maine students to meet our basic learning goals? If not, what learning expectations are we prepared to jettison?

If we are committed to this basic funding commitment, are we willing to increasingly shift tens of millions of dollars of state obligation to local schools each year? Or is it time for the state to begin honestly to meet its own responsibilities?

For years, Maine has taken pride in having its schools ranked among the nation’s best by most test measures. Understandably, the governor recently has expressed concern that our test scores, while highly commendable by absolute standards, remain flat while those in other states are rising. But is it realistic to expect even modest improvement to follow from the current trend of substantially decreasing school programs?

It’s lazy to the point of meaninglessness to declare, as the Governor has recently done, that half of Maine’s schools are subpar.  The hard question is what are we as a state willing to commit to the effort of school improvement?

Legislators and the governor regularly testify that they understand that the future prosperity of our state depends on the adequate education of Maine students.  It’s time to test that commitment by stemming further erosion of the state’s share of school funding and renewing our effort toward better educational practices.

Some divided reports

As your state legislature is now really getting into the thick of this session’s business, I wanted to provide a report on a few selected bills which represent some honestly divided opinions among legislators.

In each case, I’ve tried to fairly outline the arguments pro and con and then to report on my own vote and the bill status.

As always, I welcome your replies and comments. Please let me continue to hear your concerns.

Superintendent residency requirements

LD 6 An Act To Prohibit a Requirement That a Superintendent Reside in the School Administrative Unit seeks to allow local school boards to waive municipal requirements that school superintendents reside within a municipality.

  • Proponents: As the hiring pool for new superintendents becomes increasingly competitive between districts, residency requirements where they remain are impediments to good candidates.  Allowing locally elected school boards to waive this requirement and hire who they deem best represents reasonable compromise reflecting current need.
  • Opponents: Municipal charters represent home rule. State shouldn’t be creating ways to circumvent charters.

I voted in favor of this bill.  It passed both legislative bodies but the Governor vetoed.  Override votes have not yet been taken in either body.

Making good on the state’s obligation to mental health care.>/b>

LD 87: An Act To Improve Community Mental Health Treatment requires the state to provide rehabilitation services and interim housing for individuals with chronic mental illness.

  • Proponents:  This is legally required of the state by consent decree. Even if not required, lack of treatment will incur greater state expense in the future.  Morally, it’s the right thing to do.
  • Opponents: State cannot afford $5.6 million expense.

I voted in favor of this bill.  The bill is pending enactment in the Senate.

Ethanol bills

LD 105: An Act To Allow Motor Fuel Containing Five Percent Ethanol To Be Sold in the State

allows selling gasoline containing only 5% ethanol

  • Proponents: Provides and option which would be helpful for those with small engines who have had trouble with high ethanol gas, could increase mileage
  • Opponents: Ethanol is only viable option to meet federal requirements for renewable fuel. Nothing in state law prohibits the sale of 5% ethanol. Law is unnecessary.

I voted in opposition to this bill.  But a majority in the House voted in favor.  The bill is currently in non-concurrence between House and Senate.

LD 115: An Act To Join in a Prohibition on Motor Fuel Containing Corn-based Ethanol prohibits the sale of ethanol.

  • Proponents: Ethanol is bad for small engines. Ethanol is not a good source of renewable energy. Ethanol results in lower gas mileage.
  • Opponents: Ethanol remains only viable renewable fuel. Current federal requirements can’t be met in Maine without ethanol. No cost-effective biofuel alternatives exist yet.

I voted in opposition to this bill but the bill received a majority of support in the House. It is currently pending in the Senate.

Reducing size of state legislature:

LD 134: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Reduce the Size of the Legislature seeks to reduce the number of legislators in the House from 151 to 101 and in the Senate from 35 to 25.

  • Proponents: New technology could make governmental representation more efficient. Would save money. Many states with similar populations have smaller legislatures.
  • Opponents: Close representation and personal access to government is distinctive to Maine.  Present number of legislators allows efficient division of effort and thoughtful in-depth committee work. Cost of legislature is less than 1% of state budget.

I voted in opposition to this resolution.  The bill died between the House and Senate.

Grandparents’ rights

LD 209: An Act To Strengthen the Rights of Grandparents under the Grandparents Visitation Act seeks to extend Grandparents’ rights to see their grandchildren over parental objection  to grandparents who qualify under an expanded definition of “sufficient existing relationship.”

  • Proponents: “Sufficient existing relationship” is inadequately defined in statute.  Modern families are complex with grandparents filling in more as surrogate parents in cases such as parental incarceration, disability, and illness.
  • Opponents: Expanded definition of sufficient existing relationship likely to infringe on constitutional case law.  Grandparents who have de facto parental relationship already currently allowed to intervene.  This would tread on parents’ rights to protect against manipulative or abusive relationships.

I voted in opposition to the bill. The bill died in both the House and Senate.

Teen tanning

LD 272: An Act To Reduce Youth Cancer Risk prohibits tanning business to sell their services to those under 18.

  • Proponents: New medical evidence clearly shows that artificial tanning greatly increases the incidence of melanoma in teens.
  • Opponents: Bill oversteps state authority over individuals and families.

I voted in favor of this bill.  The bill was enacted in both bodies but vetoed by the Governor.  Neither body overrode the veto.

Growing food in the Capitol Park

LD 474: An Act to Require Edible Landscaping in a Portion of Capitol Park directs the Park Commission, subject to adequate funding, to arrange for and implement a plan to incorporate food-producing landscaping into a portion of Capitol Park as consistent with the Olmstead plan in 1920.

  • Proponents: raises awareness of local food and inspires public to plant own gardens, reduces park maintenance, conforms to original park design.
  • Opponents: even nominal expenditure of public funds is inappropriate.

I voted in favor of the bill.  The bill passed both bodies and awaits the Governor’s signature.

Expanding placement of commercial signs

LD 483: An Act To Promote Small Businesses by Enhancing the Use of On-premises Signs increases the height and distance that commercial signs can be from businesses and allows them closer to public ways.  Allows more signs for each business and eliminates some restrictions on changeable lighted displays.

  • Proponents: More signs are good for business. Current restrictions are inappropriate.
  • Opponents: Maine’s long-standing sign law is appropriate and protects Maine’s brand.  More signs could be distracting.

I voted in opposition to this bill. The bill died in both bodies.

Health care for young adults leaving foster care

LD 487: Resolve, To Establish MaineCare Eligibility for Young Adults Who Were Formerly in Foster Care directs the state to identify and reach out to enroll eligible 19- to 25-year-olds formerly in foster care into the MaineCare program.

  • Proponents: this allows health care coverage to young adults who otherwise lack means for coverage under the extended family plan provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Opponents: State can not afford any expansion of MaineCare to a population that should be generally healthy.

I voted in favor of this bill.  The bill is pending enactment in both bodies.

Minimum wage

LD 611: An Act To Adjust Maine’s Minimum Wage Annually Based on Cost-of-living Changes

seeks incrementally to increase Maine’s minimum wage to $9.00 and indexes it after that to the chained cost of living.

  • Proponents hold that putting more money in the pockets of the working poor benefits local business.
  • Opponents argue that raising the minimum wage will hamper the number of entry level opportunities that businesses can offer.

I voted in favor of the minimum wage increase.  It passed the House and is pending in the Senate on the Appropriations table.

Drugs for the elderly

LD 629: An Act To Restore Eligibility and Funding for Drug Programs for the Elderly and Disabled seeks to restore the recently reduced eligibility to the Medicare savings program for the elderly.

  • Proponents: This is a vital program that helps seniors afford the cost of medicines without which they would be far sicker and dependent upon more expensive state nursing care.
  • Opponents: State can’t afford to restore this benefit of nearly $3 million.

I voted in support of this bill.  The bill is still pending enactment in the Senate.

Minimum obligation for local funding of schools

LD 667: An Act To Increase Funding to Schools seeks to phase out the proportional share reduction granted to school districts and their local taxpayers to meet the full funding of their schools when the state is unable fully to fund its share.

  • Proponents: Current law exacerbates chronic structural underfunding of public education, unfairly allows some districts to maintain lower levels of school support than others.
  • Opponents: hypocritical for state to mandate minimum local share when unable to meet own obligation.  Tax base is tapped out.

I voted in favor of the phase-out of this reduction.  The bill is currently in the Senate.

Right to work (for less)

LD 786: An Act To Ensure the Voluntary Membership of Public Employees in Unions and LD 831 An Act To Prohibit Mandatory Membership in a Union or Payment of Agency Fees as a Condition of Employment sought to eliminate the requirement that workers paid under collectively bargained agreements support the costs of collective bargaining.

  • Proponents: Requirement coerces support of union operations. Inappropriate for state to serve a collection agent for these costs.  Bargained contracts put businesses at competitive disadvantage.
  • Opponents: federal law requires unions to represent all workers governed by collectively-bargained agreements, only fair that all who benefit should share in costs of representation.  Other union expenses are wholly voluntary. Bargaining is engaged by mutual agreement of workers and businesses.

I voted in opposition to LD 786 and to LD 831.  The bills both died in both bodies.

Organ donation

LD 835: An Act to Improve Organ Donation Awareness: requires a $2 donation checkoff on drivers’ license applications to fund the Maine organ donation fund.

  • Proponents: 117,000 individuals are on organ transplant waiting lists, 18 people on this list die each day for lack of a transplant. Check-off is voluntary.
  • Opponents:  Oppose state administration and spending. philosophically opposed to transplants.

I voted in favor of this bill.  The bill is pending further action in both bodies.

Holiday retail sales

LD 1197: An Act to Allow Stores under 10,000 Square Feet To Be Open On Certain Holidays

…allows stores having under 10,000 square feet of interior customer selling space to be open on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas

  • Proponents: oppose any commercial restriction.
  • Opponents: retailers split on bill, 85% do not want to open on Christmas but would feel pressured if allowed. No evidence that opening holidays increases overall sales volumes, just spreads same volume over more days. Holidays should be family time for workers.

I voted to accept the Committee’s Ought Not To Pass report. The bill did not pass in either the House or Senate.

Dismantling Maine schools through grading and ‘choice’

At last, via a November 25 memo from Commissioner Bowen to Governor LePage, we have plain insight into the Governor’s plans for Maine schools.

This greatly aids in understanding why the Governor never misses an opportunity to claim that Maine schools, still by most measures among the best in the nation, are ‘failing’ and why he was eager to release a grading system that suggests to the public that half Maine’s schools are unsatisfactory.

Preparing the Governor’s next budget, Commissioner Bowen proposed “Funding to put an Office of School Accountability Into place to parallel the legislation we’ll advance empowering the state to take over failing schools.”

In April, the Legislature’s Education Committee received a document from the Department of Education identifying a $3 million initiative identified by identical language. But when this concept immediately raised committee members’ eyebrows, the Department, with evident embarrassment, withdrew this as a ‘typo’ and recharacterized the initiative as being in support of struggling schools.

But the Department offered no explanation either of what measures would be used in defining “struggling” or what criteria the Department would use to disburse the funding. So the majority of the Education Committee voted to decline the initiative.

Now that the November 25 memo has become public, we get a fuller picture of what the Governor’s and Commissioner’s vision. Here, directly transcribed, Commissioner Bowen explains:

Issue: School accountability

The biggest step by far would be to authorize some kind of takeover of a school by the state.

We do not have the authority to do that under current law. What we could do is propose legislation that takes a school out from under the authority of the school district and puts it under state control. We have some models out there like this — Louisiana and Tennessee, for instance — so we have some models to look at. I don’t know if we have the votes for something like this with the legislature we have coming along, but I think we should push for some kind of consequence for schools that fail to improve.

A step that is not quite as dramatic as a state takeover would be to allow students in failing schools to have school choice. We could try to add that in, but again, I don’t know if we have the votes.

So the real question is, how hard to you want to push on this? Let me know. Accountability is a good issue politically, I think.


Issue: School choice

We need to come up with a school choice bill for this session, what do you think about thefollowing concept? (It also connects to the issue around what to do with Good Will Hinckley)

Goal: expand school choice opportunities for students by overcoming barriers to choice options.

Existing choice options and barriers to them:

  • Charter schools. Barriers: residential/transportation costs for some students.
  • Homeschooling. Barriers: Time and cost for parents and families.
  • Supt. Transfers. Barriers: Supt’s sometimes block them, transportation costs for parents.
  • Town Tuitioning. Barriers: Only in some towns, parent costs for non-approved schools.

Core issue — We have lots of choice options, but money not opportunity, is a barrier. Money would create far more choice options for students, especially low-income students

Bill concept — “The Choice and Opportunity Fund”

  • Fund created in statute, in GPA. (This is how we redirect the Good Will Hinckley money while still allowing GWH to access it – through the students)
  • Available for low-income students only. We will set certain income guidelines
  • Can be used for the following purposes:
    • Fund some amount of transportation costs for students traveling to school outside their home district.
    • Fund a certain amount — based on some statewide average or something – of residential costs for low income students to attend a school (public, private or charter) that is outside a set commuting range (x number of miles) and which parents can demonstrate uniquely meets the needs of the student (this could fund residence programs at GWH, for instance)
    • Fund tuition to approved private schools for students that do not live in town tuitoning towns. (Supt. agreements cannot be made with private schools)
    • Provide funds to low-income homeschoolers, to be used for teaching materials, etc.
    • Other?

Let us know what you think of this approach. It is a kind of voucher approach that builds on what we have for choice options already. We could add in that it could be used for religious schools as well. We would have to find budget space for this and do rules governing the program, so would take a little bit of time to work out, but I think the low-income element makes it a good approach politically.


…And there you have it.

Government secrecy or personal privacy?: Concealed weapons permit data

As many of you certainly know, the legislature has wrestled this session on the issue of the extent to which the concealed weapons permits should be kept secret.

I have corresponded with many of you on this matter.  Some of you — including very close friends whose views I deeply value — expressed grave and, unfortunately, mutually irreconcilable concerns

I ended up supporting the Judiciary Committee’s minority report on LD 345 which sought generally to keep limited permit information public but also explicitly to protect those such as domestic abuse victims, crime witnesses, judges, jurors, and law enforcement officers whose safety might be threatened through any disclosure. (Note that domestic violence victims are already given general protection from public disclosure though the use of a different proxy legal address.)

The minority report sought to dampen any possibility of “wholesale” release of permit data by limiting public inquiry to single individual request per day. So a member of the public could walk into the local police station and ask if one individual at a specific address had been locally issued a concealed weapons permit and expect simply to receive an answer of either yes or no.

The minority report also allowed confidentiality to be extended to anyone with reason to believe that disclosure of their name and town would subject them to harassment.

But ultimately, after extensive floor debate, the minority report failed by a large margin.

The bill as passed essentially makes secret all individual concealed weapons permit information at some expense to public oversight and transparency.

Knowing that many of you care about this issue and that some of you necessarily will be disappointed with my position, I just wanted to be transparent with you on my own reasoning and voting.