Mal Leary

Maine Public Political Correspondent

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.

A lifelong journalist and Maine native, Mal has worked as both a reporter and editor in broadcast and in print, in both Washington, D.C. and in Maine. He has won numerous awards for his reporting on state government issues and politics.

For several years he owned and operated Capitol News Service, which was located in the State House complex providing news coverage to radio stations as well as newspapers.

Mal is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters & Editors and has long been an advocate for open government. He is the SPJ Sunshine Chair in Maine and is currently the president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition based at the University of Missouri Journalism School and is a Vice President of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.

Mal is married with three grown children, several grandchildren and lives in Augusta, within sight of the Capitol dome.

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Because the partial shutdown of the federal government has started on a weekend, the effect on the Maine is minimal — but that starts to grow on Monday.

“This just should not have happened,” Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in an interview with Maine Public Radio. “This is a failure to do what we are supposed to do.”

Collins said she has reconvened the Common Sense Coalition, made up of moderate senators from both parties to try to craft a compromise. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine is also a member of that group.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation are divided over funding the federal government for another month, as talks continue in Washington. They acknowledge that a partial shutdown is possible if an agreement can't be reached.

But that would not have a big immediate impact on Maine. Programs such as Medicaid and Social Security will continue to send benefit checks, and many federal workers will stay on the job, including law enforcement and the military.

Maine kids are not getting essential computer education need to compete in today’s economy. That was the message delivered Thursday to the Legislature’s Education Committee by the task force set up to review computer-related programs in Maine schools.

The report found that only about 30 percent of Maine schools offer basic computer skills programs.

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Members of Maine’s congressional delegation say they do not want to see a federal government shutdown, but that a partial shutdown is possible if no agreement is reached by Friday night. Republicans control the House, the Senate and the presidency, but they still may not be able to garner the votes needed to pass even a short-term government spending bill.

Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin said in a written statement that he will vote for a continuing resolution crafted by House GOP leadership in order to avoid a shutdown.

A vial of Naloxone, which can be used to block the potentially fatal effects of an opioid overdose, is shown Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, at an outpatient pharmacy at the University of Washington.
Ted S. Warren / AP Photo/File

Governor LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills have clashed on plenty of issues, but Mills says the governor’s critics misunderstand how the rulemaking process works and who has the final say.

Several lawmakers and the Maine Democratic party are blaming Gov. LePage for failing to implement a state law to allow the dispensing of naloxone, a drug that counters opioids in a person’s system, without a prescription. But according to Maine’s attorney general that criticism is misdirected.

Grocers and others in the food and beverage industry are supporting a proposal to reduce the deposit rate on liquor bottles in Maine from 15 cents to five. This change would match the nickel deposit implemented last year on small containers of liquor commonly called “nips."

Supporters of the change, including the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, argue that it is better to have just one deposit for all liquor containers, regardless of the size. Among these supporters is Christine Cummings of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

The Maine Legislature is considering a bill that would make forced labor a crime. 

The measure drew broad support and no opposition Wednesday at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Sen. Amy Volk, a Republican from Scarborough who sponsored the proposal, said forced labor should be a crime - "to compel someone to work for little or no compensation," she said. "Victims are usually those with little power or means,including migrant workers, immigrants or refugees, those living in extreme poverty and drug addicts.”

A proposal to reauthorize the federal law known as FISA, designed to allow intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance of certain communications without a warrant, is making its way through Congress — it passed the House last week and next heads to the Senate.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King both serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and both say they will vote in favor of reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

King says the law has helped prevent terrorist attacks and other aggression against the U.S.

Illegal methamphetamine makers often turn to college students and others to buy pseudoephedrine for them to make drugs in their home labs. Carlos Gutierrez, vice president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, says it’s a practice that law enforcement calls “smurfing.”

“That’s basically the act of purchasing pseudoephedrine, knowing or unknowingly on behalf of another individual who makes methamphetamine out of it,” he says.

In Maine and many other states, smurfing is a crime, punishable by years in prison.

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District says the bipartisan Heroin Task Force is pushing several bills to address the opioid crisis.

“In Maine, 6 out of 10 families are impact by this epidemic,” he said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Poliquin said his family has been touched by drug abuse, and he worries for younger generations who are affected by the problem.

Mal Leary / Maine Public

Gov. Paul LePage says he would like to ask voters to approve a bond measure designed to attract new industries to Maine.

The governor appeared at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. He spoke against two bond proposals to subsidize the biomass industry, which he calls a losing proposition. And though two years ago he signed a bill creating a one-time program to provide over $13 million in state funds to subsidize biomass plants, LePage says they are simply not economically feasible.

Among the fees on your monthly phone bill is a charge to fund the 911 emergency system. They all add up to about $7 million a year, but the fee has generated a surplus of nearly $6 million, and the Public Utilities Commission is now asking lawmakers for the authority to reduce the charge.

Front Street Shipyard

When JB Turner opened the Front Street Shipyard in Belfast six years ago, he had a handful of workers and a vision.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press File

Maine’s two U.S. senators say they are opposed to President Donald Trump’s proposal that would open federal waters on the East Coast to oil and gas drilling.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the proposal this week that would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters, granting energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard.

The proposal would lift a ban put in place by President Barack Obama a few years ago.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine says Congress is facing major decisions in the next few weeks, but is acting as if it has all the time in the world.

The Senate is in just two days this week, and the House does not reconvene until next week.

“There is no reason that we are playing this kind of game that I can figure out. I don’t understand why we didn’t do it in September, why we didn’t do it in October,” King says.

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