Opinion

Maine people set the agenda in Augusta this year

Maine people should be the ones who set the political agenda in Augusta and D.C., not well-paid lobbyists, special interests or political hacks. But we know that this isn’t always the case.

While lobbyists are paid to roam the halls of the Statehouse, it’s much more difficult for regular, working-class people to take time off of work, travel to Augusta and speak before a legislative committee or meet with their elected officials. For folks in our area, it can take three or four hours just to make the trip, without considering the time spent there or the drive home.

 This year, however, was a little different. With more ways to participate in the Maine Legislature than ever before – phone, Zoom and YouTube – ordinary Mainers defined and shaped our agenda. Look at the new laws that finally took effect on Oct. 18. It’s how the Maine Legislature should be – driven by the priorities and best interests of the people we represent. 

 Together with Mainers who bravely and publicly shared their health care stories (and nightmares), my colleagues and I were able to pass new laws to improve prescription drug price transparency and come up with a long-term plan to rein in health care spending. We also passed laws to ensure emergency access to lifesaving insulin and require state-regulated insurance plans to cover HIV prevention medication and the necessary, associated treatment. The hope is that these new laws will save lives while we continue to take on Big Pharma and deliver meaningful prescription drug relief to Maine people. 

 Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I also heard from so many working families struggling to find quality, affordable child care near where they live or work. The struggle isn’t new – parents, providers and, in some cases, employers have been raising the alarm for years. But the pandemic and the subsequent workforce shortages have forced the situation to a tipping point. This year, I partnered with parents, providers — including Aroostook County Action Program Early Care and Education and Miss Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou — business groups and child care advocates to introduce a new law that directly responds to the needs of our community. Based on a successful program in Somerset County, the new law aims to expand access to child care by working with providers already invested in our communities to open up slots, hire and pay additional staff and improve quality of care. 

 What I like about this model is that it recognizes the extraordinary providers and organizations already working on the ground and in our community to support our kids. Instead of a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach, providers and community organizations will submit a proposal for state funding that expands access to child care by leveraging the resources and strengths of their own community. More information will be available on how folks can apply for funding. 

 While this is a good first step, we must do more to support the quality child care professionals who provide this critical service to Maine children, families and businesses. It’s essential that we pay these professionals what they’re worth and do more to ensure that providers can attract and retain qualified staff.

Overall, I’m really proud of what we achieved together this year, and I know we are just getting started. These are just two examples of legislative victories that were made possible by Maine people. We also did so much more to provide property tax relief, honor our veterans, support survivors of domestic violence, create good-paying jobs and invest in our economy. None of this would have been possible without the people of Maine who testified before legislative committees, called their elected officials and wrote letters to the editor demanding action. Thank you to everyone who showed up this session and never let up. These victories are your victories.

 As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or ideas for bills. You can call my office at 287-1500 or reach out via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president.  

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