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It’s a challenging time to be a Republican legislator in Augusta.
Not only do they have to deal with a volatile governor, they are busy attacking each other.
This hostility was displayed last week when Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, a moderate Republican, challenged Gov. Paul LePage by introducing a bill that would force the governor to issue bonds, already approved by voters, that would fund land purchases approved by the Land for Maine’s Future Board.
The governor has said he won’t release these bonds until the Legislature agrees to increase timber cutting on Maine’s public lands, and use the funds to increase heating assistance for low-income residents.
Katz’s bill would limit the authority of a governor to delay bonds that have already been approved, and would require the immediate release of the current land bond funds. He has the support of several other Republican senators, as well as Democratic party leaders.
If LePage does not release the bonds, several land preservation projects already in the pipeline could be jeopardized. Among them is an effort to preserve Knight’s Pond, a preserve on the Cumberland/North Yarmouth line.
Katz’s efforts drew a sharp rebuke from the governor, and his loyal House Minority leader, Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport.
“Sen. Katz … should be more concerned with keeping Mainers warm than grandstanding in front of the TV cameras,” the governor said in a statement, also accusing Katz of defending “special interests.” Fredette accused Katz of trying to score “political points” and with being out of step with his Republican colleagues.
“Katz just wants to fight with the governor,” Fredette told reporters.
The effort by Katz and the other lawmakers could be an effective challenge to LePage. Katz is backed by several Republican senators, who could provide the votes for the Senate to override a LePage veto. Katz also has the backing of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, a powerful lobbying group that favors the land purchases to help protect Maine’s deer herd.
Katz sees this effort as a matter of good government.
“The basic principle here is not one of being a liberal or conservative, but of respecting the will of the people,” Katz said in an interview. “It’s not OK that the people have spoken to authorize bonds for land purchases and then the governor says I want something else in order to release the bonds.”
The governor was successful with that tactic in the last Legislature, when he threatened to hold up bond issues until the state’s debt to hospitals was paid. After the Legislature agreed to pay the debt in 2013, he promised to authorize the same bonds that he is now holding hostage.
A hearing is set for Monday, May 11, on two bills offered by local legislators that aim to improve Maine’s vaccination rates for schoolchildren. Last year, 5.5 percent of Maine’s schoolchildren were not vaccinated, up 4.4 percent from the previous year.
Most of those claimed a “philosophical” exemption.
LD 606, proposed by Rep. Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, would remove the philosophical exemption for vaccinations.
Another proposal, LD 471, offered by Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, would require parents to discuss vaccinations with physicians before being able to opt out.
The issue of vaccinations has been highlighted by measles outbreaks in other parts of the country, and Maine has seen an increase in whooping cough cases.
But opponents of mandatory vaccination, who believe that vaccines harm their children, are backing a bill that would require the state to provide information on the supposed dangers of vaccines. That measure, LD 1076, would create a vaccine injury office in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The hearing on all the bills is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. before the Health and Human Services Committee.