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Protestors to Collins: You already know enough to oppose Kavanaugh

Mon, 09/24/2018 - 06:31

As a second woman has come forward with a credible allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Many of Sen. Susan Collins’ constituents in Maine believe she already knows enough about the nominee’s dishonesty and the threat he poses to health care access and reproductive rights to vote against his appointment to the court.

Speaking at The Cedars retirement community in Portland late Friday morning, Collins remarked that she was “appalled” by President Donald Trump’s tweet saying that if Professor Christine Blasey Ford’s claim that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her was “as bad as she says,” Ford would have filed charges. She didn’t name any actions she would take in response.

More than a dozen protestors who gathered outside of The Cedars to oppose Kavanaugh demanded Collins take a clear stance on his nomination.

Megan Grusenmeyer put it succinctly: “I would really like to see her come forward with an answer.”

“I imagine she’s under a lot of pressure,” she added, “but you don’t go into politics expecting you’re not gonna have to deal with that. I think she needs to step up to the plate.”

About Ford’s claim, Grusenmeyer said she wishes it would be taken more seriously than she believes it will.

“She’s in a strange situation, but I still think she needs to do the right thing,” said Patty Weber, a Portland resident and member of the National Council of Jewish Women. “He’s gone back on his word, even with her, [and] she claims she’s a champion for women. The reason she’s in a strange situation is because she’s playing politics, but she has to make a decision.”

Maine’s junior senator, Angus King, has already declared his opposition to Kavanaugh. In his announcement, which came before the sexual assault allegations, he cited policy issues of privacy and health care as well as Kavanaugh’s refusal to recuse himself on matters of presidential power as reasons for his decision.

 

Megan Grusenmeyer, one of the protestors, who said Collins needs to “step up to the plate” and make a decision about Kavanaugh.

Patty Weber, from Portland, who also said Collins only “votes a little bit to the left when her vote doesn’t matter.”

Falmouth resident Laurie Pruzansky, also a member of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her greatest worry about Kavanaugh is that “he’s not fair to women.”

Westbrook resident Laurie was one of the first to arrive outside of The Cedars.

One of the protestors, holding a hand-written sign, who asked that Collins “pay attention to women.”

Turning productive rage into love and change

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 22:48

This week on the Beacon podcast, Ben, Taryn and Mike discuss Dr. Christine Ford’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her, and Sen. Susan Collins’ continued and maddening preference for a rushed process over of a full understanding of Kavanaugh’s conduct.

Taryn explains how we can approach this moment with love, and that it’s the only way to win.

Also, a single number from a new study on Question 1 basically explains Maine’s entire home care crisis.

Plus: Ben again attempts to describe graphs on the radio, Mike reads a conservative Boston Globe columnist and learns a new phrase and Taryn has a new favorite South Portland City Council candidate, Deqa Dhalac.

You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.

Subscribe to the podcast feed right here using your favorite podcasting app or subscribe using iTunes.

Mainers raise $6,000 for rape response group in protest of Rep. Lockman

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 11:08

Bangor-based activist and photographer Jeff Kirlin has raised $6,050 so far for Rape Response Services in response to state representative Larry Lockman attacking him in a campaign fundraising letter. Lockman is attempting to win a fourth term in the state legislature representing Amherst.

Kirlin’s Facebook-based fundraising campaign has far surpassed his original goal of $2,500, with more than 176 individual contributions so far.

“As most of you guys know, Larry is planning on using my trolling of him as a fundraiser for his campaign to get back into the legislature to continue to promote conversion therapy, deny healthcare to Mainers, and promote his Alt Right agenda,” said Kirlin in a post announcing the fundraiser. “Let’s turn this around and raise funds for a good cause.”

Kirlin chose to raise money for the sexual assault crisis and support center because of Lockman’s past statements about rape. In the early 1990s, Lockman, who was at the time director of the Pro Life Education Association, wrote “If a woman has (the right to abortion), why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death.”

Lockman has a long history of extreme statements and actions both while in office and for decades before he began serving in the legislature. In February, Sen. Susan Collins, who had previously endorsed and contributed to Lockman, disavowed him over racist comments he made about an immigrant welcome center that were first exposed by Beacon.

According to Kirlin’s fundraising page, the mission of Rape Response Services is to offer hope, support, and advocacy to victims and people affected by sexual assault and stalking, to provide education about sexual violence and to promote prevention. Services include a 24-hour helpline, support groups, school based prevention programs, accompaniment to medical and legal appointments, training and education, and follow up services for extra support and assistance through the healing process.

Mainers dealing with issues related to rape and sexual assault can call the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services 24-hour helpline at 1-800-871-7741.

(Photo: Rep. Larry Lockman and Steve Bannon, via Twitter.)

Study shows Question 1 would help 27,000 Mainers who need home care

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 15:30

A new report released today by the Muskie School of Public Service shows that, if Question 1 is passed this November, 27,000 Mainers who currently need in-home assistance would be eligible for home care support.

Currently, only about 5,600 of the 27,000 Mainers with home care needs are able to access public long-term care services, a proportion set to worsen as Maine’s senior population grows over the next two decades — with Mainers over 65 expected, according to the report, to represent almost a third of the state’s population by 2032.

At a press conference held in reaction to the report’s release, home care experts and advocates described the universal home care program outlined in Question 1 as imperative to solving Maine’s ‘elder care crisis.’

“People in Maine who need care aren’t getting it under the current system,” said Stephen Campbell, a data and policy analysis for PHI.  He cited a shortage of home care workers as the major culprit, a problem exacerbated by the long, hard hours and low wages these jobs entail.

“For too long, we’ve not invested adequately in home-care jobs. Now we’re paying the price,” he explained. “We’re trying to serve a larger and larger population with a finite pool of resources. Question 1 could change that.”

The study also makes clear that the universal home care could expand and complement existing programs, eliminate waiting lists, and trigger increased federal matching funds.

Professor Sandra Butler, Resident Scholar at the University of Maine’s Center on Aging, pointed to a knowledge gap that exists between what older adults think Medicare covers and what it actually does.

“Most people don’t understand that long-term care is not funded by Medicare,” said Butler, “and they don’t save for long-term care, so they come up short when they need it. It is often unattainable for a great majority of older adults.”

The board overseeing the universal home care guarantee would have flexibility in assisting older Mainers to living at home and remain in their communities rather than defaulting to nursing home or facility-based care.

It was the unmet need that supporters of Question 1 highlighted, however.

“The biggest and most important takeaway from this report is clear: 27,000 Mainers, many of whom currently receive no help at all in meeting their family’s care needs, would be eligible for assistance if Question 1 passes and is implemented,” said Kevin Simowitz, political director at Caring Across Generations. “Without universal home care, those families will remain without help for the care they want and need.”

Carolyn Silvius, a former caregiver recently profiled by Beacon, who had to place her mother into a nursing home when she was no longer able to care for her, said that she was the living example of the report’s statistics. With Question 1, she said the unhappiness her mother experienced while living in a nursing home could have been avoided.

“Had home care for all been available at the time, I think there would have been a very, very much different situation,” said Silvius. “It’s not too late for my family. I’m approaching 72. I’m looking at the same situation for myself.”

Stuck in a nursing home, her mother was ‘anxious to die’

Thu, 09/20/2018 - 09:37

Carolyn Silvius, a Mainer in her early 70s, remembers her mother as someone who was “upbeat,” an avid crocheter who probably didn’t “even know what a book was,” she says, but who bought two newspaper every day for decades. She clipped everything, things that “didn’t concern her,” to paste into scrapbooks.

While Carolyn endured the cold winters to live in the state she adored, her mother migrated down south to a state she loved equally as much, Florida. She spent fifty years in a place unacquainted with the harsh Maine winters she hated.

But five years ago, she suffered a stroke. Forced temporarily into a nursing home, and her insurance running out, Carolyn’s mother couldn’t live on her own.

Carolyn inspects her current car, which a mechanic estimates needs $850 in repairs. A lack of reliable transportation prevented her from visiting her mother as often as she would have liked.

“They called everyone else in the family,” says Carolyn. “Her insurance was running out, and no one would take her in. Someone needed to take her”

There were two options: Her mother could relocate to a nursing home permanently in Florida, or she could return to Maine and be with Carolyn. Living in a nursing home would guarantee she could stay in balmy Florida, but according to Carolyn, the high cost would have ravaged her Social Security check every month, leaving her with a mere $40.

The long and the short of it, Carolyn says, was that she didn’t need a nursing home at that point. She needed help, but she didn’t need a nursing home.

So her mother made the decision, with some help from her friends, to come up to Maine.

They “didn’t say a thing about it”

The nursing home told Carolyn her mother was just recovering from a stroke, and that eventually she would be able to live on her own. Carolyn took a plane down to Florida, got her mother’s belongings hurriedly packed in four days, and took a plane right back to Maine with her mother. They lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Allen Avenue in Portland, although her mother didn’t like sharing the space.

“I said, ‘Momma, it’s only temporary. Just until we can find a two bedroom, then you’ll have your own room,'” says Carolyn.

One of Carolyn’s daughters, Becca, is a nurse. At the time when Carolyn’s mother was moved into the apartment, she had been prescribed 30 pills, and one day, Becca took a good look at all these pills she was supposed to take.

“She goes, ‘Ma, what’s this?'” Carolyn recalls, describing her daughter’s interest in a particular medication. “And I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know anything about medication, except when to give it to her.’”

Becca, of course, knew a bit more about them. She told Carolyn that particular medication was only prescribed to dementia patients.

Carolyn was bewildered. The nursing home in Florida “didn’t say a thing about it,” she says, so she got her mother an appointment at Mercy Hospital, where the doctor took her off of all the medications she had been prescribed to allow her to “start fresh.” That was when her Alzheimer’s showed up.

“I had no clue how to take care of an Alzheimer’s patient,” Carolyn says, “and here I am trying to cope with her. I couldn’t leave her alone for a second, because she would take off. She wanted to explore the city and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let her.”

Confusion brought on by the disease made her mother think, for instance, that Carolyn had kidnapped her.

“She said she was a prisoner,” Carolyn recalls. “She started saying I had kidnapped her, and human services got involved.”

Luckily, for Carolyn, there was “very good” documentation that she had not kidnapped her mother.

Then there was the summer day in Maine that fooled her mother into believing she was still in Florida. When she placed her handbag in a dirty laundry cart and said she was going to visit John, a former Florida neighbor of hers, Carolyn tried to convince her she was in Maine. Her mother disagreed.

“No, I’m in Portland, Florida,” Carolyn remembers her saying.

Over time, these events became more and more frequent, making it difficult for Carolyn to take care of her own mother, who also had trouble with falling.

“Had I been trained, had I had somebody come in once a week so I could do the shopping and laundry to stay with her, had I had access to nurse who could come in to check on her swelling legs and all the other problems that she had, I could have kept her with me,” she says. “I was willing to take care of her.”

Carolyn believes everyone has a debt to their mother: Your mother took care of you when you were little, and there will come a time to pay her back.

“I felt so guilty not being able to do what I felt I could be doing. I had no money. I was on SSI (Supplemental Security Income),” she says. “We were both on very fixed incomes. I certainly couldn’t afford for someone to come in.”

“It hurts to hear your mother say that, and know she means it”

Unable to afford extra help, Carolyn decided–after four months of caring for the woman who had cared for her–she had to put her mother into a nursing home in Auburn where her daughter Becca worked.

With nothing to do at the nursing home, she says, her mother would “sit, stare at the TV, and complain about how she wanted to die and get it over with.”

“It hurts to hear your mother say that,” she said, “and know she means it.”

Her mother’s income went mainly to the nursing home, leaving her with, as Carolyn predicted, $40 left over every month. Come Christmas, she couldn’t buy “even a little something” for her great grandchildren.

Eventually, she developed a UTI that, even if treated, would return and persist.

“I said, ‘She is so unhappy now. She is so depressed. If there’s not chance for her, no chance of curing it, then I said, maybe it’s best to let her go,’” Carolyn says.

Becca arranged for her grandmother to receive hospice care. After living in a nursing  home for under a year, the happy mother Carolyn remembered from her childhood died within a day. She was 88, and she was unhappy.

“Had she been home, her morale would have been better. She wouldn’t have been as anxious to die,” Carolyn says. “I don’t think anyone should die unhappy.”

Question 1 offers hope

Carolyn’s story is far from unique. As the oldest state in the country by median age, thousands of Maine families are struggling with issues of long-term care and seniors and Mainers with disabilities are often shunted into more-expensive and less-desirable nursing facility care because of a lack of support for caregiving at home.

Question 1 on the ballot this November could help. If passed, it will guarantee that all Mainers who need assistance with activities of daily living get the help they need to stay in their homes, funded by a tax on personal income over $128,400. Such a program would have likely allowed Carolyn to care for her mother at home.

Disability advocates: Kavanaugh threatens ‘hard-won rights and protections’

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 15:32

In 1927, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the forced sterilization of Carrie Buck — a woman institutionalized in Virginia for inheriting the “feeble minded”-ness that ran in her family — was constitutional. Justice Oliver Holmes wrote in his opinion that those who “already sap the strength” of the country should be called upon for these “lesser sacrifices,” like sterilization, to prevent “our being swamped with incompetence.” That decision is considered by legal scholars today to be a dramatic miscarriage of justice.

Now, in 2018, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law sees echoes of the past in a 2007 ruling by Judge Brett Kavanaugh against the self-determination rights of individuals with disabilities, saying in a statement that his language regarding people with disabilities in his opinion of the case “raises serious concerns about Judge Kavanaugh’s views on the rights and abilities of people with disabilities to determine the course of their own lives.”

The center added that his nomination “would threaten hard-won rights and protections for people with disabilities.”

In the 2005 case Does I Through III v. District of Columbiathree patients who had been receiving services through the Mental Retardation Developmental Disabilities Administration (MRDD), now the Department of Disabilities, in the District of Columbia sued, on their own behalf, the MRDD for violating their “due process rights” under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

They claimed the MRDD’s practice of authorizing elective, or medically unnecessary, surgical procedures without trying to figure out their wishes or consult with their designated advocates, like their parents, was unlawful. One of the patients had, in 1984, become pregnant. Without consulting either the patient’s legal representative or a “substituted judgement” — where the patient’s doctors and family members come to a decision based on what they believe the patient’s wishes would be–district officials gave their consent to have her pregnancy aborted.

Another patient became pregnant in 1978 and, despite wanting to carry her child to term, district officials allegedly consented to have her pregnancy aborted as well, without consulting a legal representative or obtaining a substituted judgement. The third patient had received an elective eye surgery without her mother or “court-appointed advocate” being consulted.

The D.C. district court sided with the patients, deciding that the MRDD’s policy violated the patients’ “liberty interest to accept or refuse medical treatment and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement” of their due process rights and also violated D.C. law, where “every person has the right, under the common law and the Constitution, to accept or refuse medical treatment. This right of bodily integrity belongs equally to persons who are competent and persons who are not.”

An injunction was placed on the department that prevented officials in D.C. from giving their consent for surgeries without seeking a patient’s consent, and without documenting the efforts made to receive that consent or a substituted judgement.

But in the 2007 Doe ex rel. Tarlow v. D.C. case, the department went to the D.C. Court of Appeal to appeal the injunction. Kavanaugh, as one of the three circuit judges on the Court of Appeals, ruled with the majority in favor of the department and overturned the injunction.

“Accepting the wishes of patients who lack (and have always lacked) the mental capacity to make medical decisions does not make logical sense and would cause erroneous medical decisions — with harmful or even deadly consequences to intellectually disabled persons,” Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion of the case. “Consideration of the wishes of patients who are not and have never been competent is therefore not required by the Supreme Court’s procedural due process cases.”

His opinion suggests that the three patients lacked the mental capacity to make medical decisions, a suggestion that a 2016 court opinion regarding their claims later disputed, stating that one of the two patients forced to have an abortion “spoke clearly and vividly about her anger and resentment about being forced to undergo that abortion” and “wanted to have that baby.”

Maine advocates fear Kavanaugh won’t consider the agency and welfare of those with disabilities 

Westbrook resident Leighann Gillis criticized Kavanaugh’s ruling for not considering what a patient’s wishes would be and fears what his appointment could mean for the developmentally disabled young woman who, as a home care worker, she supports on a nearly full-time basis. After reading his opinion for Tarlow, she is convinced he “couldn’t care less” about people like the young woman she has spent years looking after.

“There are a lot of people like her who are nonverbal, who live full, rich lives internally,” Gillis said. “They just don’t have the tools to communicate outwardly what’s happening.”

Leighann Gillis, a Maine home care worker who supports a developmentally disabled woman, says Kavanaugh “could care less” about people like her client

The 1927 Supreme Court ruling has not been overturned, and in Maine, as in other states, a person can petition for the sterilization of someone if it is proven to be in that their “best interest.” What “really scares” Gillis, however, is whether or not Kavanaugh will consider the agency and welfare of those with disabilities when ruling on cases involving them.

For Gillis, terms like “competent” and “incompetent” seem meaningless, and allude to the earlier language of “feeble minded” that is used often in Justice Holmes’ opinion from the 1927 Supreme Court case.

“That kind of big umbrella term of feeble-minded sounds like what’s going on with ‘legal incompetence,’” Gillis said. “I really tried to look that up and see how that’s defined, and what the court needs to provide to prove someone is legal incompetent. But it can really differ depending on the state you’re in.”

Those elective surgeries likely inflicted enough emotional and physical pain on the plaintiffs to lead to the lawsuit, argued Gillis. Although Kavanaugh’s decision dealt exclusively with the injunction and not the surgeries, what the three patients had experienced spanned decades.

“It’s clear he had no interest in listening to any of the plaintiffs in the Tarlow case,” she said.

“The young woman I work with — she’s in a position where, if her parents passed, she could potentially be institutionalized,” Gillis continued. “She would not be able to provide informed consent, and if the state was allowed to take over guardianship, it wouldn’t matter what she felt, what the consequences would be.”

Lisa Wesel, a mother of a woman with intellectual disabilities from Bowdoinham, raised her own concerns in an op-ed to The Bangor Daily News about the Tarlow case.

“My daughter, Lidia, has intellectual disabilities and epilepsy, a result of the rare genetic disorder Dup15q,” she wrote. “I am terrified at the thought of a Supreme Court justice who would give states the right to decide that her body is not her own.”

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Maine’s right-wing radio hosts rush to discredit Kavanaugh’s alleged victim

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 11:16

Since psychology Professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations of attempted rape by Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in high school over the weekend, Maine’s right-wing radio hosts have taken to the airwaves to discredit her account, her character, and to minimize the reported attack, in some cases spreading false information and outright conspiracy theories about her allegations.

The radio reaction comes as Maine’s senior senator, Susan Collins, is seen as a key swing vote on the nomination.

Morning host Ray Richardson on WLOB, broadcasting from Westbrook, gave lip service to the idea that the alleged assault may have occurred, but repeatedly claimed that the allegations may instead be a false smear perpetrated by a shadowy conspiracy of high-ranking Democratic elected officials.

“We ought to also remember that the left will stop at nothing — there are no rules here and let’s not pretend there are morals here — to stop this nomination. There’s too much at stake for them,” said Richardson on Monday. “Chuck Schumer said that he would do, the Senate Minority Leader, he would do whatever he had to do, whatever he had to do, to stop this nomination from going forward.”

“It is not beneath the hard left in this country to have put this woman forward in a last-ditch effort,” he said.

Richardson also took issue with Collins’ hypothetical statement that if Kavanaugh was found to be lying about sexual assault that it would disqualify him from the court.

“How the hell will you ever know, Susan Collins? You will never know. You will never know. You will never know. Let me say it again to your staff that’s listening. Tell her Ray Richardson said she will never know!” said Richardson on Tuesday. “She is a Democrat, she has given to Democratic causes. She marched in the women’s march — part of the resistance, and, and this is really good, Kavanaugh’s mother, who is a judge, presided over a foreclosure on her parents’ property.”

The foreclosure claim is based on a false conspiracy theory spread by right-wing blogs. Richardson also erroneously claimed that Ford could not remember the year of the assault (she believes it occurred in the summer of 1982) and that Sen. Diane Fienstein released the claims at the last moment to disrupt the confirmation process. In fact, Ford’s identity was confidential until she herself made her accusations public to the Washington Post following attempts by other reporters to ascertain her identity.

On the George Hale and Ric Tyler show on WVOM, the hosts made similar claims and played a series of calls and read text messages calling Ford a liar and a communist, among other insults.

“Judge Kavanaugh’s mom was a judge and she apparently oversaw the foreclosure of the home of the parents of Christine Ford,” claimed Tyler.

They also questioned why Ford had waited so long to come forward and other aspects of her accusation, ignoring well-known research on the behavior of victims of sexual assault.

They also asserted that the revelation of the allegation was a desperate Democratic tactic.

“Doesn’t it indicate that you don’t have anything when you’re playing this card so late in the game?” said Tyler.

While he was at it, Tyler also took a swipe at Anita Hill and her credible allegations of sexual harassment by Justice Clarence Thomas that were partially aired during his confirmation hearing in 1991.

Matt Gagnon, morning host at WGAN, took a different tack, arguing that even if Kavanaugh committed the assault, he shouldn’t be judged too harshly.

“Let’s just say it was the way that she said it was, which I very much doubt,” said Gagnon. “Is being a drunk, idiot moron when you’re 17 really indicative of your current character?”

“The groping happened, but he never completed the sexual assault,” claimed Gagnon, who said Kavanaugh might have just “got a little handsy.”

Gagnon also said that since Ford hadn’t come forward at the time and gone to the police, she had effectively given up her right to object now.

“If you choose not to react, which is a perfectly valid thing for you to do, I think you have chosen to let it go, you know what I mean?” said Gagnon.

Gagnon also questioned whether the whole thing might be an “invented memory,” comparing Ford’s account to a story that he misremembered about a toy truck when he was two years old.

The hosts, all men, seemed to overwhelming identify with Kavanaugh over his accuser, with some referencing their own high school experiences in his defense.

“I don’t want to dismiss this,” said Richardson. “I think we’ve gotta look at this from an intelligent standpoint, not an emotional one, because a man’s life is on the line.”

(Photo: Ray Richardson of WLOB)

Maine teachers spend millions of their own money on classroom supplies

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 17:29

Maine’s teachers spent at least $4.2 million out of their own pockets on basic school supplies in 2016, the most recent year for which we have data, illustrating the inadequate public resources dedicated to educating the next generation of Mainers. Instead of asking educators, who are already underpaid, to foot the bill for the essentials needed to educated Maine students, the state should take steps to adequately fund public classrooms.

Public education supports a strong economy and benefits all members of society. For students to succeed regardless of their parents’ income or their ZIP code, schools need to be well-stocked with books, school supplies and the tools and equipment necessary for education.

Teachers throughout Maine are being forced to pick up the slack caused by underfunding. The IRS publishes statistics on the number of Mainers who claim a $250 educator expense deduction on their annual federal income tax returns. In 2016, 16,610 Mainers claimed the deduction. That’s more than 95 percent of eligible educators, according to Census Bureau data.

Maine teachers deducted $4.2 million through the educator expense deduction in 2016, meaning they spent at least that much on school supplies — and likely more. The deduction is capped at $250 per teacher, so data on the deduction don’t give us the full extent of spending on school supplies. But a national survey by the US Department of Education found that the true figure nationally is an average of $479 per teacher.

We can get a sense of what teachers buy for their classrooms and their students by looking at another dataset. DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit crowdfunding site for public school teachers. These projects give us some indication of the unmet funding needs faced by Maine teachers.

For the 2015-2016 school year, Maine teachers asked for nearly $6,000,000 to help with 957 projects. Requests came from teachers in roughly half the state’s school districts. Two-thirds of requests were for projects in the core subject areas of language and math. Nearly half of the money requested was to buy books and supplies, while 40 percent was to buy technology, indicating a challenge many schools face in keeping classroom equipment up-to-date.

Some of the pitches to potential donors from Maine teachers drive home the scale of the funding shortage in Maine classrooms. For example:

“My students need basic supplies, so they can focus on learning in math, not on if they have a pencil.” – Mrs. Netzer, Princeton Elementary School, ME

In Maine, a teacher shortage threatens the future of our entire system of public education. Teachers are paid less than other, similarly educated college graduates, and pressure to buy the school supplies their students need with their own money only exacerbates the disincentive to enter teaching as a profession.

No matter how generous teachers are with their own income, a better solution exists: Adequately funding public school with public funds. Maine voters in 2004 and 2016 voted to make the state legislature fund 55 percent of the cost of public schools with state funds. The second referendum even created new revenue through a surcharge on the wealthiest Mainers to pay for it. The legislature has never met that core commitment demanded by voters. In 2017, lawmakers repealed the surcharge in a budget that shortchanged Maine’s schools yet again.

Proper education funding would ensure no Maine student lacks the tools they need to learn, and that no teacher must give up part of their paycheck to meet society’s core commitment to educating students.

(Photo: Maine Department of Education)

Stephen King: If Collins confirms Kavanaugh, ‘she will be defeated’

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 14:01

Over the weekend, as a sexual assault accusation made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh brought his nomination to the Supreme Court further into question, Maine’s premier author Stephen King said that if Senator Susan Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh, “she will be defeated” if she runs for re-election.

Collins remains an undecided swing-vote for or against Kavanaugh. Although she has joined other senators in asking that Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she recently told CNN she was “surprised” by the sexual assault accusation, but that Kavanaugh was “emphatic in his denial” of wrongdoing to her.

Senator Angus King has already come out against Kavanaugh, saying “there is too much at stake” to confirm him, and has also said that the committee should delay the vote to confirm Kavanaugh until more is known about the accusation.

IF Susan Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh, and IF she runs for re-election—two bigs ifs—she will be defeated. It would be unwise for anyone to mistake how angry most Americans are at the way this is being railroaded through.

— Stephen King (@StephenKing) September 15, 2018

Stephen King has voiced his concerns about Collins in the past, calling attention in a Bangor Daily News op-ed to her reputation as a “moderate who compromises a lot.” While this “sounds good,” it means she often, in his view, votes in a way that has not served Mainers well–particularly with her opposition to minimum wage increases and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would guarantee that women receive equal pay for equal work.

“Moderation is fine, but only up to a point,” he said. “It’s not helpful to Mainers when Collins continues to vote on the wrong side of policies that matter most.”

(Photo via Sen. Collins’ Twitter)

SoPo Clear Skies Ordinance reaffirms the power of grassroots organizing

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 05:29

The news was very, very good Aug. 24 when Judge Woodcock of the federal district court ruled that South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance would stand. It has been a long hard wait, filled with ups and downs, doubts and renewed hope. But the city and the citizens stood firm in the conviction that they have the right to protect themselves from projects that will pollute their environment. Although it took a lot of patience waiting, we owe Judge Woodcock a vote of gratitude for his careful review of all the facts that convinced him to render this judgment.

Protect South Portland is a grassroots organization that formed in early 2013 when it became known that Portland Pipeline had been planning to change from an importing to an exporting pipeline by reversing the flow of its line to bring tar sands oil to load it on tankers in our harbor. I had been involved previously with the citizen effort to keep Irving from building a tank farm on waterfront property near the Shell terminal in Ferry Village and had also worked with Concerned Citizens of South Portland to get the city to acquire the land which is now Bug Light Park. It was a no-brainer for me to become one of the founding members of this group.

We worked hard to organize citizen resistance to the Pipeline’s plans: door to door canvassing, letter writing, phone calling, lobbying of our city council, articles in local papers, demonstrations and presence at every city council meeting or workshop for well over a year. We had a David and Goliath fight on our hands, but put all our trust in the power of people working together to protect their city. Initially, we suffered a close defeat at the polls when the Waterfront Protection Ordinance was defeated by 193 votes in the 2013 November election.

But that defeat only reinforced our dedication to keep this grassroots effort going. The reward for the determination of our citizens to keep going until successful was the passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance by the South Portland City Council with a vote of 6-1 in mid-summer 2014.

In February 2015 the Pipeline sued the City and the case has been in Federal Court since then until Judge Woodcock ruled that the Clear Skies Ordinance can stand.

There are so many people who contributed to the work that led to the passage of the Clear Skies Ordinance. First and foremost, all of us who live in South Portland should be proud of the way we turned out in droves week after week to attend city council meetings and workshops, extending the citizen comment sections of these meetings well into the night, over and over again.

We should be grateful for all the people from other parts of the state, and sometimes from far away, who came to join us in this fight, who walked our streets  with us knocking on doors, talking to our neighbors and urging their support.

We also owe a big debt of gratitude to the three people who came forward to serve on the Draft Ordinance Committee, meeting weekly for over six months: David Critchfield, Russell Pierce and Michael Conathan. Under the facilitation of Jeff Edelstein, they met with and listened to anyone who wanted to come forward to comment on their work or to present an opposing view.

It was one of the most transparent civic actions possible, and with it they came up with the simplest and most straightforward  of ordinances. Last week’s judgment is the proof of that.

The people who coordinate Protect South Portland’s activities are a small group. At the core of our effort has been the conviction that when people come together to achieve a goal, there is almost nothing that can stop them. Although we may have provided a little leaven in this process, the real power lies with the hundreds of people who came forward to contribute whatever skills, time and effort they could afford.

Among those without whom this people powerhouse could not have succeeded were NRCM, Toxics Action, Environment Maine, 350 Maine, The Vermont Law School Environmental Clinic, the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine and, of course, the city council of South Portland.

Let us all rejoice together.

(Photo: Supporters of South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance demonstrate on the Casco Bay Bridge in 2013, via Protect South Portland’s Facebook page.)

Maine students ramp up activism against Kavanaugh: ‘We’re going to be loud’

Sat, 09/15/2018 - 07:00

Dozens of Bowdoin College students marched from Congress Square Park to Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office on Friday, demanding the senator — who remains undecided on President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh — do what they say is best for young Mainers and young people around the country by voting “no.”

Jenna Scott from Saco said she came out with other students because she believes Kavanaugh would overturn Roe v. Wade and undermine a woman’s right to choose. She often wonders if Collins is listening, and said she hopes that she and other students, as well as the entire country, are now loud enough for her to hear.

Jenna Scott from Saco joined other students from Bowdoin Friday in Portland to march from Senator Susan Collins office to Congress Square park to demonstrate their opposition to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. | Cara DeRose

“I know that, as a native Mainer, we’re looked at a very old state,” said Scott. “But there are a lot of young people here, and we have opinions. We’re going to be loud about them.”

When asked why Collins and other members of Congress might overlook how Kavanaugh’s appointment would affect young Americans in the future, Haley Maurice, a member of Bowdoin Climate Action who organized the demonstration and drop-in at Collins’ office, pointed to the demographics of Congress.

“Eighty percent are male. Eighty percent are white. More than half are millionaires, and all of them are older,” she said. “They are not representative of the U.S. population, and even less representative of [the] young people inheriting this world.”

Kavanaugh, she argues, represents those demographics that currently dominate Congress, as well as an “out-of-touch” Republican Party.

“It’s easier to describe who Kavanaugh represents by listing some people that he doesn’t,” she said. “Not young people. Not women. Not LGBTQ+ folks. Not people with disabilities. Not people of color. Not the lower, working and middle class. Brett Kavanaugh represents the administration who nominated him: an out-of-touch, dangerous Republican Party — not the interests of the American people.”

Samuel Kenney, a Bangor native who had voted for Collins in the past, explained that Collins was “elected as a representative of an independent state” with a mix of political ideologies. For her to stand with President Donald Trump and vote to confirm his Supreme Court nominee, who would “likely overturn” the popular Roe decision on abortion would show she is “disingenuous.”

“It would betray the people who voted for her,” he said.

As a group of fifteen students went up to Collins’ office to speak to her staffers, other students scrawled messages in colorful chalk, such as “Vote for your people” and “Vote for our future,” outside the One Canal Plaza building where her office is located. Building maintenance staff demanded the students leave the area and called the police to evict them. After the group returned from the office and led a series of chants, the students marched back to Congress Square Park before police arrived.

Senator Collins staffer: ‘I’ve got 5,000 phones to answer’

The student demonstration followed a Mainers for Accountable Leadership (MFAL) delivery of over 1,000 handwritten letters from Mainers asking Collins to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination to her Portland office. MFAL members Pam Cunningham, Susie Crimmins, and Tommy Webel read some of the letters before a Collins’ staffer interrupted, saying that the office would “have to read them all again” and that she had “5,000 phones to answer.”

 

MFAL is the Maine organization that has partnered with Be a Hero to fund Collins’ 2020 opponent if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh, an effort that has received over $1.3 million in pledges.

(Top photo: Student protestors from Bowdoin Climate Action marching in Portland Friday in opposition to the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. | Cara DeRose)

What to do when your senator randomly accuses you of federal crimes

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 06:34

This week on the Beacon podcast, Ben Chin and Mike Tipping discuss Sen. Angus King’s well-reasoned rejection of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Sen. Susan Collins’ continued attempts to dissemble and distract on his nomination.

We also hear from Stephen Campbell of PHI on Maine’s home care crisis.

You can ask a question or leave a comment for a future show at (207) 619-3182.

Subscribe to the podcast feed right here using your favorite podcasting app or subscribe using iTunes.

Photo via Flickr/Fortune.

Report: LePage’s tax cuts favoring the wealthy costing Maine $864 million in revenue

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:02

Maine will have $846 million less in revenue to pay for vital services such as education and healthcare over the next two years than it would have had before Governor Paul LePage gave away income tax rewards tilted towards the wealthy. Half of the state’s projected loss in revenue has been redistributed to the top one-fifth of Maine households.

And compensating for the shrinking state budget, all Mainers — including low- and middle-income households — have had to shoulder more of the burden to fund schools and infrastructure, collectively paying an average of $30 million more per year in local property taxes from 2011 to 2016 than in the previous six-year period.

These findings come from a new report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), which was distributed this week to 397 state legislative candidates and all four candidates for governor, which calls on lawmakers to undo LePage’s tax cuts favoring the wealthy, which have created disparities that are “especially difficult for poorer communities and those with small tax bases, because they have no ways to make up the difference,” according to the report.

The report recommends that the next legislature rebalance Maine’s tax code to re-secure the $846 millions in lost revenue so that it can appropriate the $643.5 million necessary to fully fund the state’s core obligations to expand Medicaid, fund 55 percent of K-12 education, and share 5 percent of its revenue with municipalities to maintain infrastructure.

Despite LePage’s boasts of a budget surplus of $175.8 million for fiscal year 2018, and a record $272.9 million in the state’s rainy day fund, on top of setting aside $19 million for yet another round of income tax cuts, the legislature and the LePage administration have shrunken the state budget, and as a result kicked about 28,500 working parents off of MaineCare in 2012, and nearly 60 percent of low-income Mainers off of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs in the years since.

From 2011 to 2015, after LePage’s tax cuts were in place, the number of Maine children living in deep poverty — meaning their families made less than half of the federal poverty line — increased at a rate that was a eight times greater than that of the rest of the nation.

“We don’t necessarily have a spending problem — we have a problem with how we’ve made decisions with revenue,” MECEP policy analyst Sarah Austin told reporters about this year’s budget surplus. She explained that these core commitments to healthcare, education and infrastructure could not be met even if state lawmakers agreed to tap into that surplus — which they have not.

“Even if [the surplus] were enough to cover it … that’s still leaving the state in tight position to fund other needs,” said Mario Moretto, communications director of MECEP. “When we talk about spending versus revenue, what we need to get out of is this situation where the legislature every two years is trying to figure out how to do more with less, or more with the same, because the state’s needs aren’t static.”

Expanding Medicaid to 70,000 Mainers

Medicaid expansion was passed by 59 percent of the voters on the 2017 ballot and the estimated 70,000 newly-eligible, low-income Mainers who fall within 128 percent of the federal poverty line are still being blocked from accessing MaineCare by the governor’s office and receiving critical health care they are entitled to be law, which took effect in July.

MECEP is recommending the next legislature, under a new governor, appropriate $110.5 million to fully fund the expansion, which, according the the report, would save the state $43 million during the next budget cycle.

With the state funding its share of Medicaid expansion, it would also unlock $930 million from the federal government over the next two years to go towards the state’s MaineCare costs. As a bonus, the expansion will create 5,980 jobs and $685 million in economic activity, according to MECEP’s analysis.

Adhering to the will of the voters and fully funding K-12 education

Despite twice being mandate by Maine voters by referendum, the state is still failing to honor the statute requiring the state fund 55 percent of K-12 public education costs, leaving towns and cities to pick up the tab. As a result, many communities have scaled back school funding, or raised local property taxes. And the problem, MECEP notes, is much more exasperated in small communities with small property-tax bases, resulting in inequity in education in rural areas.

“Lower- and moderate-income families and seniors on fixed incomes have been forced to absorb rising property tax bills, making it harder for them to cover other basic expenses,” the report reads. “And the services those families rely upon have been cut despite the higher property taxes.”

MECEP is recommending state lawmakers appropriate $320 million to fully fund public schools.

According to the report, the top 1 percent of Maine households received a $16,000 annual tax cut when then voter-approved 3-percent surcharge to fund education was repealed in 2017.

Sharing a larger percentage of the state’s revenue with municipalities for infrastructure

The state is bound by statute to share 5 percent of its revenues from sales and income taxes with municipalities to help offset the costs of local infrastructure. But compounding the need to raise local property taxes, the LePage administration has compelled town officials to accept only 2 percent of its revenues, forcing municipalities to raise property taxes to fund their essential infrastructure needs.

MECEP is recommending that $213 million be appropriate to tip the burden back towards the state, allowing municipalities to more effectively provide local services such as fire departments and snow removal, while maintaining parks, libraries and all city properties, while relying less on property taxes to do so.

Undoing tax havens for the wealthy, while providing relief to low- and middle-income families

To rebalance Maine tax code away from one which disproportionately benefited the wealthiest households, MECEP is recommending that the 397 candidates running for seats in the state legislature and the incoming governor repeal costly income tax breaks for those with the ability to pay more, as well as reinstate the estate tax which currently allows extremely wealthy people to pass on money up $11 million before they pay any tax on the transfer.

MECEP also recommends completely doing away with large business tax carveouts — such as the Maine Capital Investment credit which over the next two years will divert $50 million in potential revenue to Maine’s largest businesses — which, according to their analysis, no evidence suggests has spurred job creation, raised wages, or driven new investment.

However, MECEP recommends keeping and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Property Tax Fairness Credit which provide tax relief to the low- and middle-class earners whose wages have not risen as a result of top-end tax cuts, and are in need of more take-home income.

(Photo: Governor Paul LePage via his Facebook page.)

Sen. King: ‘There is too much is at stake’ to confirm Kavanaugh

Thu, 09/13/2018 - 06:50

In a blistering public statement released on Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Senator Angus King announced his official opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

King cited a series of policy areas, including “reproductive and other privacy-related rights, health care (including the future of the Affordable Care Act), environmental protection, voting rights, campaign finance, and consumer protection,” in which he believes Kavanaugh has an “overly rigid judicial philosophy,” and would rule to the detriment of Kings’ constituents.

He also expressed concerns over Kavanaugh declining to recuse himself on issues of presidential power and accountability, his refusal to provide documents from his time serving in the Bush White House and his failure to answer direct questions during his hearing.

King said he found the publicity campaign mounted by corporate, dark money organizations in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be revealing.

“The existence of this campaign probably tells us more about what kind of judge he will be than any opinion, speech, or Senate testimony,” said King.

Maine’s other U.S. Senator, Susan Collins, has not yet taken a final position on Kavanaugh’s nomination, but has said she believes he would protect abortion rights because he considers Roe v. Wade “settled law.” Few legal experts agree with Collins’ interpretation.

King didn’t mince any words on that score, saying of Kavanaugh: “He may not vote directly to repeal Roe – though I think his record indicates that he will – but he will almost certainly vote to whittle away its protections, leaving not much more than a hollow shell.”

Health care and abortion rights advocates immediately praised King’s decision.

“For more than a generation, Maine’s senators have stood up for women and their right to make personal, private decisions about their pregnancies. The future of these rights and the legacy of Maine senators as champions for women’s health hinges on this confirmation,” said Nicole Clegg, Vice President of Public Policy of the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund. “It is clear from his statement that Senator King took the time to review Judge Kavanaugh’s record, his public statements, and the limited documents available, listened to the people of Maine and came to the same conclusion we did: Judge Kavanaugh should not be confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. The stakes are too high.”

A campaign to support Sen. Collins’ 2020 opponent if she votes to confirm Kavanaugh has now surpassed $1.2 million in small pledges from more than 40,000 individuals.

National expert: Question 1 can address Maine’s ‘home care crisis’

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 16:27

Stephen Campbell, data and policy analyst for PHI, the nation’s leading authority on the direct care workforce, spoke in Portland on Tuesday about the demographic changes and policy decisions that have led Maine to the brink of a “home care crisis,” and how Question 1 on November’s ballot can help.

“In the next couple decades, the population of people age 65 and over is going to grow by half. While the population of working age people with dwindle,” said Campbell at a press conference in Portland. “And in the broad swaths of rural areas here in Maine, that’s especially a challenge, because the population of older adults is growing even faster, and the population of working age people is leaving for educational and economic opportunities in cities and other states. So we have a crisis looming, but Question 1 could provide take real steps to addressing this crisis.”

Campbell added, “What people end of doing is that people end up paying for home care out of pocket, which here in Maine costs $50,000 a year. So for many folks, they are spending down their bank accounts and all of their assets until they reach poverty, at which point they qualify for Medicaid. But Medicaid is a program that competes with all these other budget items in the state legislature. Home care reimbursements are very low and that challenges employers to invest in this workforce to provide them with a decent wage, benefits, quality training. And as a result, two-thirds of this workforce leave every year. One in six home care positions is vacant. And for people who need care, they are missing 6,00o hours every week of care.”

Campbell will also speak at the Maine Wisdom Summit Wednesday in Augusta.

Rhiannon L’Heureux, a former home care worker who now works at a nursing facility, described why she left the home care field, as well as the difficulty her family faced caring for her twin sister, left with a severe disability after an accident, in rural Maine.

“In the end, I just couldn’t afford to keep working for such low wages and I had to quit, like so many of our best home care workers do every year,” said L’Heureux. “It’s because I love my sister and because I loved my clients that I support Question 1.”

Abdullahi Ali, CEO of a home care agencies with offices in Portland, Lewiston and Augusta, agreed with Campbell’s assessment.

“The most difficult aspect of home care right now is how poorly we are able to compensate those who do this vital work for some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” said Ali. “At the current rate, there’s no room to pay for training or advancement. Home care workers don’t get the respect and the career opportunities they deserve.”

Question 1 will guarantee that all seniors and Mainers with disabilities can access needed home care, paid for through a tax on the wealthiest 1.6% of individual income earners.

“Here’s another layer of this crisis,” Campbell said. “Nursing homes also have a staffing shortage. One in six nursing home positions is vacant. And one third of nursing homes have recently turned away new residents because they don’t have the beds for them.”

He explained, “With Question 1 we can chart a new path forward for a long-term care system for the 21st Century. That’s not just something we can do here in Maine. It could be the start of something much bigger, across the country.”

“We need to think creatively about how we can solve these problems so we can ensure that people are getting the care they need and that we’re well prepared for the future,” Campbell said.

(Photo: Stephen Campbell of PHI speaking at a press conference in Portland about Maine’s universal home care referendum.)

Kavanaugh nomination may be last straw for Collins’ moderate voters

Wed, 09/12/2018 - 06:42

Just last year, she was ranked among the most popular senators in the country. Now, Senator Susan Collins’ approval rating has hit a historical low of 35 percent in Maine, and evidence of her declining popularity can be seen in constituents’ concerns about whether or not she will vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a nominee most Mainers do not want confirmed, to the Supreme Court.

And while the senator remains undecided, former Collins voters have already made up their minds about voting for her in 2020. A walk down the street in downtown Portland, a solidly liberal area where Collins has seen significant support in the past, turned up plenty of them.

“I voted for her twice,” said Tom Ryan of Portland. “[After] that tax bill she put through, and if she votes Kavanaugh in, it’s a definite ‘no’ from me.”

Ryan explained that he initially supported Collins because he “thought of her more as a moderate.” However, in the past eight months following her vote for the GOP tax bill — which repealed portions of the Affordable Care Act­ and is projected to cause health care premiums in Maine to increase by 15 percent in 2019 — Ryan said he has felt that Collins has towed the Republican line too hard.

“She’s been showing that she’s just following in the footsteps of what Republicans want to do. I wish she was more independent, because I think that’s more representative of the people of Maine,” he said.

This July, the senator remarked that the constituent involvement in the debate around Kavanaugh’s nomination was less compared to when the GOP-controlled Congress attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But Ryan says he has called her every time he has had concerns.

“It doesn’t seem to make any difference,” he said. “That’s a shame, because she’s our representative. It’s not about her, about her party. It’s about the people she represents.”

Liz Leuthner, another former Collins voter, sees Collins’ indecision regarding Kavanaugh as “another example” of the senator not taking a stand on an issue that could alter the lives of her constituents for decades to come.

“As a woman, on this particular issue, I’m longing for her to do that,” Leuthner said, referring to a desire to see Collins take a stand against Kavanaugh. “I’m not voting for her.”

Amanda Castonguay, a Portland resident who has voted for Collins, was “shocked” by Collins’ willingness to “trust” that other Republicans would keep their promises to her in exchange for a ‘yes’ vote on the GOP tax bill last year. This willingness, along with a potential vote to confirm Kavanaugh, has pushed Castonguay towards not voting for Collins again.

“The fact she would trust the Republican Party to make these promises that they just fell through on — it just blew my mind she would trust their word,” she said. “So you have to wonder: did she really trust their word, or was she covering herself?”

A Collins-voter delivers pink hanger to her staff “We don’t want to go back to this…I, along with other moderates have voted for @SenatorCollins every time. That support will be gone unless she votes against Kavanaugh” #SaveRoe #StopKanavaugh pic.twitter.com/b26MoZjWt8

— Whit Jones (@whitjones) September 6, 2018

Mainers who voted for Collins in the past have also taken to social media to make clear that a vote for Kavanaugh could be a deal breaker and comments sections are filled with her former supporters expressing their disappointment in her rightward trend.

Cumberland resident and Independent voter Ted Chadbourne said in a Facebook comment that he would “reconsider” voting for either Senator Angus King or Collins if they vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

“I admire Susan Collins, and hope we can help persuade her to not vote for this Supreme Court nominee unless she becomes convinced K[avanaugh] would not only support womens’ right to choose but would also be open to consider impeaching a sitting president,” he explained in a follow-up exchange.

Another Collins voter, who delivered a pink coat hanger to one of Collins’ offices in Maine, identified herself as one of the many moderates who have voted to elect and re-elect Collins “every time.” If Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh, that support, she said, “will be gone.”

(Photo via Senator Susan Collins’ Facebook page.)

Campaign to pressure Collins on Kavanaugh just hit $1 million in pledged donations

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 17:06

The Crowdpac “Be a Hero” fund, originally established by terminally ill health care activist Ady Barkan, and now supported by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, the Maine People’s Alliance and more than 37,000 individual contributors, surpassed the $1-million mark on Tuesday. The money, mostly given in increments of $20.20 will be used to support Collins’ 2020 general election opponent should she vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Maine’s grassroots organizers say that they feel their efforts to persuade Maine’s potential swing-vote senator to vote against Kavanaugh have not been heard despite their efforts to organize thousands of Maine voters to call her office and write her hand-written notes expressing their concerns about a Supreme Court that could undermine healthcare, reproductive and abortion rights, environmental and labor protections, and voting and civil rights.

“The story is the lengths Mainers are going to to be heard. People are showing their outrage, that they will take their money and invest it, and gamble on a vote because this is so important,” said Marie Follayttar, director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.

Yesterday, Collins reacted to the pledge drive on the conservative news site, Newsmax, by comparing the swell of grassroots pledges to bribery.

“I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh,” Collins told Newsmax.

“The idea of Susan Collins attacking an effort by 35,000 small dollar donors as bribery is politics at its worst,” Follayttar said in a statement. “Thousands of Mainers are trying desperately to tell her that she needs to protect abortion access and critical health care coverage across the county by voting ‘no’ on Kavanaugh. Instead of following the GOP playbook of reflexively dismissing their criticism, Sen. Collins owes it to her constituents to hear them out, and explain why Judge Kavanaugh’s demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade, opposition to covering pre-existing conditions and repeated lies are not disqualifying. If she doesn’t, we absolutely have the right to prepare to unseat her.”

Follayttar explained that there is a structural power difference between a nationwide crowd-sourcing campaign to unseat Collins, and the $300,000 Karl Rove’s organization One Nations has announced it would spend on digit ads in Maine to pressure Collins to confirm Kavanaugh. The difference, Follayttar says, is in the amount and number of small donations that are being raised, and the promise to put them towards a positive end.

She also noted that Collins was silent last year when the Koch brothers threatened to withhold $400 million in mid-term election contributions to Republican congressional candidates unless they passed tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.

At the time of publication, the “Be A Hero” campaign against Collins had raised 27,379 individual symbolic donations of $20.20. Over 3,409 people have given $25; 2,575 people have given $50; and 378 people have given $250.

“Senator Collins may not really know what small donations are, because during her last election campaign, less than three percent of her money came from small donors, while 44 percent came from PACs,” Follayttar said in a statement.

The “Be A Hero” campaign initially launched with the goal of raising $500,000 for Collins’ opponent only if she voted to seat Kavanaugh. But after the fund raised $100,000 after the first day of Senate confirmation hearings, the campaign raised the goal to $1,302,388.

Follayttar says the potential funds serve as an unprecedented opportunity for grassroots organizations such as Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine People’s Alliance, partnering with nearly 20 Indivisible groups and other allies, to coalesce around this Supreme Court decisions and mobilize a long-term, grassroots strategy to hold Collins accountable.

“It’s unprecedented the level of activity, and the diversity of tactics to try to win a vote that will impact our lives for decades,” she said. Follayttar explained that while mobilizing voters is the goal of her organization’s political advocacy, the over $1 million so far raised by the “Be a Hero” campaign presents Mainers with a ray of hope.

“There are so many ways Mainers can show up,” she said. “This is a way Mainers can show up at home.”

(Photo: Senator Susan Collins via her Facebook page.)

Maine and other states looking to tax opioids pin hopes on November elections

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 16:58

After almost slapping a tax on makers of opioid pills earlier this year, Minnesota lawmakers are set to try again when they meet in January.

The drug manufacturers that helped create the opioid addiction crisis should help fix it, said state Sen. Chris Eaton, whose daughter died of an overdose.

“I’m definitely going to pursue it” in the next legislative session, said Eaton, a Democrat. “Whether it has a chance or not kind of depends on the election.”

Lawmakers in at least 10 other states intend to consider opioid taxes in upcoming legislative sessions. Many pin their hopes on the November midterm elections.

If Democrats retake governorships and legislatures this fall, lawmakers and policy analysts predict other states would be more likely to follow New York, whose groundbreaking opioid tax to raise $100 million a year took effect July 1.

November results “are absolutely going to drive some of this,” said Tara Ryan, vice president of state government affairs for the Association for Accessible Medicines, which represents makers of generic medications and opposes opioid taxes. “If the Democrats take the elections, like some people say they will, it could definitely change the votes.”

Andrea Littlefield of Maine Health Equity Alliance, left, introduces Kayla Kalel from Young People in Recovery-Brewer at an event in Bangor Aug. 31 to remembering Maine’s 418 victims of opioid overdoses in 2017.

California, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont are all eyeing renewed attempts to pass opioid taxes, officials in those states say. The proceeds would mostly pay for addiction treatment and prevention.

“We’ll be back come January,” said Tim Ashe, president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, which overwhelmingly passed a tax measure this year that faded in the House and was opposed by the state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, who is up for re-election.

Taxing manufacturers and distributors

New York’s law taxes manufacturers and distributors according to an opioid medication’s strength and will direct proceeds toward addiction treatment, prevention and education. The tax is expected to amount to roughly a dime per lower-strength opioid pill and higher for more powerful ones.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Andrew Kolodny, an opioid-policy researcher at Brandeis University and frequent critic of the pharma industry. “The human and economic costs of these meds are enormous.”

Adding to the momentum is frequent support from Republicans, who are normally reluctant to tax businesses.

“I’m probably the No. 2 or 3 most conservative individual in the legislature, and I’m standing up there proposing a[n opioid] sales tax,” said Montana Republican Sen. Roger Webb.

Industry backlash

But an industry backlash is growing. An association representing pharmaceutical distributors sued in July to block the New York law, arguing that those businesses were unfairly targeted.

Pharma’s main trade group has also fought hard against such measures, arguing they drive up the cost of medicine and unfairly penalize patients with chronic pain.

“We do not believe levying a tax on prescribed medicines that meet legitimate medical needs is an appropriate funding mechanism for a state’s budget,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

New York’s law prohibits passing the tax on to consumers and other purchasers such as insurance companies, but enforcing that could be tricky, according to legal experts.

The Association for Accessible Medicines opposes all opioid taxes but especially objects to that measure because it taxes drugs per pill rather than according to revenue. That puts most of the burden on makers of cheap generics and largely spares brand-name sellers, whose marketing helped fuel the addiction crisis, Ryan said.

Drugmakers will prove to be tough opponents regardless of electoral outcomes, said Regina LaBelle, a visiting fellow at Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy who worked on drug strategy in the Obama White House.

“These types of taxes face an uphill battle in state legislatures as powerful forces, including industry and industry-funded groups, ally against them,” she said. Pharma-funded chronic-pain patients can be a powerful lobby, she said.

Fentanyl gives pharma companies a chance to deny blame

Surging mortality rates caused by fentanyl, heroin and other illegal opioids give pharma companies a chance to deny blame, even if many of those victims became addicted through prescription pills, LaBelle said.

Drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 people last year, a record, according to new, preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dozens of cities, counties and states have sued opioid makers and distributors, arguing the companies downplayed the dangers of addictive pills and ignored signs they were being abused on a massive scale. Often compared to litigation against tobacco companies in the 1990s, the cases could produce billions of dollars in government revenue to fight addiction and overdose.

But that could take years. Through opioid taxes and related measures, states could quickly supplement addiction-prevention funds made available by Washington, which many consider inadequate and unpredictable.

Participants in a die-in on the steps of Portland’s City Hall on Sept. 7 demand the city act to create overdose preventions site to respond to the city’s and state’s ongoing opioid crisis. In Portland, 57 people died from opioid overdosed in 2017.

Reparations for the opioid crisis

Members of Congress have pushed more opioid legislation this summer, but the House’s package so far has no clear path to becoming law.

Federal funding “is a drop in the bucket,” said Patrick Diegnan, a Democratic New Jersey state senator who backed an opioid tax this year. “We really basically have to put in place the infrastructure for treatment. It will cost a lot of money.”

Minnesota’s proposed opioid tax had bipartisan support this year, passing the state Senate by a huge margin. But under heavy pressure from drug companies, a measure in the Republican-controlled house failed at the end of the legislative session in May.

In the governor’s race this fall, Tim Walz, a Democratic congressman, faces Jeff Johnson, a county commissioner who upset former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Republican primary.

Minnesota recently got Washington’s permission to bill Medicaid, the state and federal program designed for low-income people, for psychiatric hospital stays for those with intense addiction-treatment needs.

But none of the moves so far will furnish resources adequate to relieve the crisis, argue patient advocates. Many see an element of justice in making opioid companies contribute.

“Why is it important for the drug industry to pay reparations?” said Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, a Minnesota advocacy group named for her fiancé, who died of an overdose in 2011. “No matter what, this is going to go on for decades to come.”

(Graphic by Kaiser Health News | Caitlin Hillyard)

Assisted Living Kicks Out The Frail ’Cause ‘We Can’t Take Care Of You Any Longer’

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 11:21

The phone call came as a shock. Your aunt can’t transfer into memory care; we have to discharge her from this facility, a nurse told Jeff Regan. You have 30 days to move her out.

The next day, a legal notice was delivered. Marilou Jones, 94, who has dementia, was being evicted from Atria at Foster Square, an assisted living facility in Foster City, Calif. The reason: “You are non-weight bearing and require the assistance of two staff members for all transfers,” the notice said.

Regan was taken aback: After consulting with Atria staff about his aunt’s deteriorating health, he and Jones’ husband, William, 88, had arranged for her to be transferred to a dementia care unit at the facility. A room had been chosen, and furniture bought. But now, Atria was claiming it couldn’t meet her needs after all.

Assisted living is governed by states, and regulations tend to be loosely drafted, allowing facilities considerable flexibility in determining whom they admit as residents, the care they’re prepared to give and when an eviction is warranted, according to Justice in Aging, a legal advocacy organization. | photo: KHN

This action isn’t unusual. Across the country, assisted living facilities are evicting residents who have grown older and frail, essentially saying that “we can’t take care of you any longer.”

Evictions top the list of grievances about assisted living received by long-term care ombudsmen across the U.S. In 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, 2,867 complaints of this kind were recorded — a number that experts believe is almost surely an undercount.

Often, there’s little that residents or their families can do about evictions. Assisted living is governed by states, and regulations tend to be loosely drafted, allowing facilities considerable flexibility in determining whom they admit as residents, the care they’re prepared to give and when an eviction is warranted, said Eric Carlson, directing attorney at Justice in Aging, a legal advocacy organization.

While state regulations vary, evictions are usually allowed when a resident fails to pay facility charges, doesn’t follow a facility’s rules or becomes a danger to self or others; when a facility converts to another use or closes; and when management decides a resident’s needs exceed its ability to provide care — a catchall category that allows for considerable discretion.

Evictions without a path to appeal

Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities generally don’t have to document their efforts to provide care or demonstrate why they can’t provide an adequate level of assistance. In most states, there isn’t a clear path to appeal facilities’ decisions or a requirement that a safe discharge to another setting be arranged — rights that nursing home residents have under federal legislation.

It’s very frustrating “because state regulations don’t provide sufficient protections,” said Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy for the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

Sometimes, evictions are prompted by a change in ownership or management that prompts a re-evaluation of an assisted living center’s policies. In other cases, evictions target residents and family members who complain about not getting adequate assistance.

Amy Delaney, a Chicago elder law attorney, tells of a client in her late 80s with dementia admitted to an upscale assisted living community. When her two daughters noted deficiencies in their mother’s care, managers required them to hire a full-time private caregiver for $10,000 a month, on top of the facility’s fee of $8,000 a month.

One day, a daughter went to visit, saw staff napping and took pictures on her cellphone, which she sent to the facility administrator with a note expressing concern. “A few days later, she got a call telling her that her mom had become combative and needed to be taken to the hospital for psychiatric treatment,” Delaney said.

The daughters went to the facility and took their mother to one of their homes. “They found another assisted living facility for her a few weeks later,” Delaney said, noting that she found no record of behavioral issues in the woman’s record when the daughters contemplated suing.

“We see this regularly: An assisted living [facility] will say your mom isn’t looking well, we’re sending her to the hospital to be re-evaluated, and then, before she can return, they’ll say we’ve determined her care level exceeds what we can provide and we’re terminating her agreement,” said Crystal West Edwards, an elder law attorney in New Jersey.

Unlike nursing homes, assisted living facilities generally don’t have to document their efforts to provide care or demonstrate why they can’t provide an adequate level of assistance. In most states, there isn’t a clear path to appeal facilities’ decisions or a requirement that a safe discharge to another setting be arranged — rights that nursing home residents have under federal legislation. | photo: KHN

Evolving care needs

Assisted living operators argue that transfers are often necessary when residents’ health deteriorates and that good communication about changing needs is essential.

“We believe providers should be upfront with consumers about their care abilities [and limitations] and encourage a robust, ongoing conversation with residents and loved ones about their needs — especially as they evolve,” wrote Rachel Reeves, a spokeswoman for the National Center for Assisted Living, in an email.

Atria Senior Living, which operates assisted living communities in more than 225 locations in 27 states and seven Canadian provinces, declined to comment on the circumstances of Jones’ eviction in keeping with its policy to protect residents’ privacy. In an email, a spokesman explained that “we conduct regular assessments, in accordance with state law, to ensure residents are receiving the appropriate level of care and to determine whether we can continue to meet their needs.”

In Jones’ case, Regan said his uncle William was told by a marketing manager that his wife could “age in place” at Atria at Foster Square since a wide range of services — assisted living, memory care and hospice care — were available there.

The couple was willing to pay a considerable amount for their move to the upscale community in July 2017: an $8,000 one-time entrance fee, $10,000 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment, $500 a month to have medications administered, and extra charges for help with transfers, being escorted to meals and more frequent bathing, among other kinds of assistance, that sometimes totaled $2,300 a month.

But Jones was becoming weaker. “My biggest mistake was not getting her into memory care sooner, where she would have received more attention,” Regan said.

In the weeks before Atria’s eviction decision, Jones had fallen several times, been hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat, and started on a new blood thinner medication.

After Atria’s action, “I lost all confidence in them,” Regan said. Within two weeks, he found another community, Sunrise of Belmont, for his aunt, who moved into memory care, and his uncle, who moved into his own apartment — at a combined cost of nearly $20,000 a month.

While his aunt is now receiving good care, his uncle was shaken by the move and is depressed and having difficulty adjusting, Regan said.

Strategies to protect long-term care recipients

Elder law attorneys and long-term care ombudsmen recommend several strategies. Before moving into an assisted living community, “ask careful questions about what the facility will and won’t do,” said Carlson of Justice in Aging. What will happen if Mom falls or her dementia continues to get worse? What if her incontinence worsens or she needs someone to help her take medication?

Review the facility’s admissions agreement carefully, ideally with the help of an elder law attorney or experienced geriatric care manager. Carefully check the section on involuntary transfers and ask about staffing levels. Have facility managers put any promises they’ve made to you in writing.

If a resident receives an eviction notice — typically 30 days in advance — don’t move out right away. If the facility says it can no longer manage someone’s care needs, bring in a physician to evaluate whether assisted living is still a viable option, said Anthony Chicotel, staff attorney at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. Try negotiating with the facility if you can suggest a solution to the concern managers are raising.

File a complaint with your local long-term care ombudsman’s office, which will trigger an investigation and usually slow down the process, said Joseph Rodrigues, the state long-term care ombudsman in California. Ombudsmen represent residents’ interests in disputes and can help advocate on your behalf, he noted.

Consider bringing the matter to landlord-tenant court or civil court in your area — a legal option available when other avenues for appeal are not available. Or ask for a “reasonable accommodation of the resident’s needs under the federal Fair Housing Act.”

Staying in place and waiting for the facility to initiate legal action will buy you time, which should be your goal. Don’t rush to move into another facility without checking and making sure it will be a better fit, now and in the future, Chicotel said.

Also consider whether you want to stay at the current facility. “Do you really want to be someplace that doesn’t want you?” said Jason Frank, a Maryland elder law attorney. For most clients, he said, the answer is no.

Finally, consider adjusting your expectations. “Success for some families is ‘I bought three years of good care for Mom in assisted living’ and now she’s moved along in her illness and it’s time for skilled nursing care,” said Judith Grimaldi, an elder law attorney in New York City.

(Graphic: Lynne Shallcross/KHN illustration; Getty Images)

Maine lawyers to Collins: Kavanaugh is ‘dangerous for the respect of the rule of law’

Sat, 09/08/2018 - 07:46

Six lawyers traveled to Washington this week to hand-deliver to Senator Susan Collins a letter signed by 236 Maine attorneys who say a “yay” vote for Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be a threat to Supreme Court norms and procedure and the broader rule of law.

On Thursday, the attorneys — Jackie Sartoris, Jon Hinck, Tim Schneider, Tara Rich, Nancy Wanderer and Ben Gaines — met with Collins in her D.C. office.

Chief among the lawyers’ concerns was the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee deliberately withholding thousands of emails and documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House and not allowing the conservative jurist’s full record to be assessed by the Senate or the public.

“Not following a deliberative process is really dangerous and we hope that you take the time to consider that,” Gaines, who serves as legal counsel and treasurer of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, told Collins in her office on Thursday.

 

“We told Senator Collins that by selectively withholding documents from the public, Republican leadership is dangerously undermining the rule of law — while it’s already under constant assault from the president,” Gaines said in a press statement after the meeting.

On Thursday, a 2003 email by Brett Kavanaugh was released to the press which contradicts her public interpretation of a previous assurance he made to Collins on Aug. 22 that he considered by Roe v. Wade “settled law.”

“The leaked emails prove that’s true, and prove she’s turning a blind eye to a deliberate effort to hide Kavanaugh’s record and positions from her constituents,” Gaines said.

The lawyers also expressed to Maine’s potential swing-vote senator that Kavanaugh is a conservative ideologue who has expressed hostility towards Roe and the Affordable Care Act and is unfit for a lifetime appointed to the court.

The letter, which Gaines and the others attorneys, gave to Collins, explains, “We are troubled by Judge Kavanaugh’s extreme partisan background. From his work under Kenneth Starr to draft the Clinton impeachment referral, to participation on the Republican team that litigated Bush v. Gore, to service in the Bush White House, Judge Kavanaugh has been a Republican political operative for much of his career.

The letter continues, “A judiciary independent of the other branches of government and removed from partisan rancor should be a bulwark of American democracy.”

After his hearings this week, Kavanaugh also stands accused of lying to Congress about his knowledge of documents stolen from Democratic lawmakers during his time in the Bush White House.

Kavanaugh has made statements suggesting he thinks that a president is immune from indictment while in office, which is of concern to them considering that a presidential indictment is a possible outcome of Robert Muller’s special counsel investigation into the Trump administration.

Ben Gaines told Collins that this revelation “could be dangerous for the respect of the rule of the law in this country.”

(Photo: Jon Hinck, Jackie Sartoris, Tim Schneider, Tara Rich, State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, Nancy Wanderer and Ben Gaines, courtesy of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.)

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