Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House

Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.

LePage Appoints New Temporary Deputy Education Commissioner
On May 24, Governor Paul LePage nominated former State Senator Debra Plowman of Hampden as temporary deputy education commissioner. By law, Plowman can serve up to six months in the position as temporary commissioner. This appointment follows a months-long controversy over the appointment of a permanent education commissioner. In February, Governor LePage rescinded his nomination of then-acting commissioner William Beardsley to the post of permanent commissioner of education, citing Democratic opposition to his nomination. Shortly after her confirmation to the temporary post, Plowman reappointed Beardsley to serve as the department’s deputy commissioner. Democratic Senator Rebecca Millett, who serves on the Legislature’s Education Committee, has called on the Governor to appoint someone to fill the position permanently. That individual will need to receive a hearing from the Education Committee and then face approval by the Maine Senate. 

Maine DHHS Seeking to Recoup Overpayments to Mainers on Food Assistance Program
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is sending bills to more than 3,000 Mainers to recoup overpayments to individuals in the food assistance program. DHHS acknowledged that the overpayments, which amounted to nearly $2 million in 2015 and another $700,000 in the first four months of 2016, were caused by errors at the Department. DHHS has said that it will work with individuals to set up payment plans. However, if no payments are made for 180 days, the debt becomes delinquent and is turned over to the federal Treasury, which can garnish federal payments including Social Security benefits and income tax returns. In addition to the overpayments made as a result of DHHS error, the Department is also claiming that there are overpayments that resulted from intentional fraud by around 650 families and individuals. DHHS is pursuing repayments on those as well.

Maine Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee Holds Hearing on Recent Allegations Regarding Maine Warden Service
On June 1, the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee convened a hearing at the Capitol to question the chief of the Maine Warden Service Colonel Joel Wilkinson, the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, and the Public Access Ombudsman Brenda Kielty regarding recent allegations about the conduct of the Maine Warden Service following a Portland Press Herald investigation published in May. The article raised questions about undercover operations by the Warden Service, and the Service’s policies and procedures in undertaking enforcement actions. Additionally, the article chastised the Service for turning over some, but not all, of the documents requested by the Press Herald through a Freedom of Access Act request. The Committee’s hearing reviewed many of the allegations from the article, and included questions from members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which oversees the state’s compliance with the Freedom of Access Act. At the conclusion of the hearing, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee Chairman Senator Paul Davis said there were no plans for further hearings, but it is possible that the Judiciary Committee may hold a hearing at a later date.