Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Legislature’s watchdog committee may be busier after Friday morning, when they’ll meet to consider two new requested probes from lawmakers on the state’s allocation of timber from public lands and the unemployment system.
Those new investigations are likely to pass the committee. The timber review is being requested by the Legislature’s forestry committee after a tense Tuesday hearing where Gov. Paul LePage clashed with Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, who has led the inquiry.
The Republican governor denied that the state diverted timber from public land away from two millowners because of political differences on new softwood tariffs, but he also implored the panel to send the issue to the Government Oversight Committee — which runs the independent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.
The unemployment review could be more partisan. It’s being requested by Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, after issues began in December with Maine’s new online unemployment system. Earlier this month, the Morning Sentinel published a memo saying the Maine Department of Labor destroyed complaints about the system and rolled it out despite employees’ concerns.
Labor Commissioner John Butera responded with a letter on Thursday to the committee that denied that documents were destroyed inappropriately and decried “unsubstantiated allegations generated by legislators and the media.”
The Government Oversight Committee is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but two moderate Republicans serve on it — Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, the co-chairman, and Saviello. That means it’s not hard to get investigations through the panel.
And the watchdog arm is already busy investigating Maine’s child welfare system, with minor updates expected today. OPEGA is tracking toward a May report detailing the state’s involvement with two families before the February death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs and the December death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick in Wiscasset and another, more time-consuming report on Maine’s child welfare system at large.
On Friday, the committee is expected to authorize subpoenas for school and state information in those cases. Earlier this week, Katz said at least one education official asked to be subpoenaed for information amid concerns that handing it over voluntarily would violate federal privacy laws.
Correction: An earlier version of this item misstated the day of the federal budget approval. It was Friday.