The new year has arrived! I hope you and your family were able to celebrate the holidays together in good health and good cheer. The holiday season is always a powerful reminder for me of all that’s important in life: family, friends, community and taking care of one another. It’s a time to recharge and get ready for all that a new year has to offer, and I’m excited to do just that.
With the start of the new year also comes the start of the legislature’s second regular session. Maine’s Constitution lays out the schedule for the two regular sessions each Legislature must hold. The first session usually runs from January to June of the first year, with the second, shorter session typically running from January to April of the second year. The legislature kicked off our second regular session on Jan. 5, when legislators will come together at the State House before beginning the committee work that will continue over the next several months.
In the short session, the legislature is limited to dealing with a smaller set of issues, namely budget matters and matters of emergency. That’s why I’m focusing my attention this year on what I consider to be one of the most pressing issues in our state: improving our child welfare system.
Last week, I wrote about one of my bills that would direct the Maine Attorney General to prioritize the criminal investigation and prosecution of murder cases in which the victim is a child, and to work with the courts to prioritize these cases when scheduling trials. I believe obtaining swift justice for child victims is critical to learning key information about the events that led to their murders so we can better protect all Maine kids.
I’m also sponsoring a bill to increase the staffing in the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman’s office. This small, impartial office is tasked with helping people resolve concerns and complaints with Maine’s child protective system, and while they do amazing work, they are overwhelmed with requests for assistance. Making sure they have the staffing and resources they need to do their jobs is necessary as we seek to identify what went wrong in specific cases and what systemic fixes are needed.
My final child protection bill would establish more robust, ongoing monitoring of Maine’s child protective system. The Legislature recently directed the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to conduct a thorough investigation into Maine’s child protective system. I’m hopeful that this in-depth examination will give us the information we need to make fixes to the system, but I think it’s important that substantial monitoring of the system continues even after this current investigation ends. This way, we can avoid getting stuck in the cycle we’ve repeated for the past two decades: children die; we investigate what went wrong; make changes based on those specific cases; and go back to believing we’ve done all we can, until the next tragedy strikes. I believe this change will help us be more proactive, and less reactive, in improving our child welfare system.
The legislature will kick off our work in-person, but committee work is set to happen remotely, at least for now. The pandemic is putting serious strain on Maine hospitals and health care workers, and we owe it to them to conduct our work as safely and effectively as possible. While I miss sitting side-by-side with my colleagues, last year showed us just how effective this remote work can be.
For the first time, Mainers were able to testify in front of committees via phone or Zoom. Rather than taking the day off work, securing childcare and finding a ride to Augusta, Mainers could call in to share their thoughts on the legislation that impacts their lives. The ability to participate remotely will continue this year. Committee meetings will be live-streamed and archived and can be accessed at legislature.maine.gov. The State House is still open to the public, and I encourage you to come visit on a session day when the full Legislature is in the building to vote on bills. You can stay up to date on the legislature’s schedule at legislature.maine.gov.
I look forward to keeping you updated on the Legislature’s work over these coming months. In the meantime, happy New Year to you and your loved ones. If there’s ever anything I can do to help you, please reach out to me any time at email@example.com or 207-287-1515. <