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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Later this month the temporary spending bill known as the continuing resolution, which funds the federal government, expires. But there are still five remaining months in the current fiscal year.

Congress will need to act. But members of Maine’s congressional delegation are worried about discussions to simply extend the continuing resolution instead of passing an actual budget.

The scenario is all too familiar. Members of Congress can’t agree on a budget, so they pass a continuing resolution that funds the government at the previous year’s level.

Every year tens of thousands of doses of prescription drugs are thrown away by patients who have been discharged from rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and hospitals. One lawmaker wants to find another way to make use of the medication that is still good.

Rep. Patty Hymanson, a Democrat from York and a retired doctor, is proposing legislation to require the state pharmacy board to come up with rules to allow unused medications to be donated to low-income patients.

Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn has introduced legislation to establish the constitutionality of citizen initiatives before going to voters.

He says the proposed ballot measure to require background checks for gun sales on last November’s ballot is one example where his bill could have been helpful.

“You had Michael Bloomberg-affiliated groups, special interest money come in, to try to put a referendum on the ballot that would have restricted a right that is specifically safeguarded for the people of Maine in our constitution,” Brakey says.

State Treasurer Terry Hayes has filed papers to run for governor.

Hayes, a former Democrat-turned-independent who was nominated to her current post by Republicans, says she wants to bring civility back to politics in Maine. She hopes to run as a publicly financed candidate under the Clean Election Act, but acknowledges lawmakers are considering a proposal to eliminate funding for gubernatorial candidates.

About 30 percent of Mainers are obese. While many with private health insurance have access to a wide array of services to treat it, including medications, those who depend on MaineCare have fewer options.

Lawmakers are considering a bill to require MaineCare to cover broader treatment options, including medications.

“I think it is a major medical emergency in the state of Maine and nationally, I think you all know I work nationally on this issue,” says Dr. Victoria Rogers of Saco, who testified at a committee hearing on the proposal.

Congress is on break for two weeks, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District says she has been meeting with health care providers, who are expressing similar fears about the future of the health care system.

She says they are very worried about cuts to services that have either already been made or are under consideration.

LM Otero / Associated Press

The Maine Legislature is looking once again at a proposed ban on the use of handheld electronic devices while driving.

The legislation is sponsored by Windham Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat and former secretary of state. He says there’s mounting evidence that the likelihood of having an accident increases if you are holding a cellphone to your ear or texting.

Diamond told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee that while some people would ignore the law, its passage would make highways safer.

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine  House has approved a bill aimed at reducing the number of single-use plastic shopping bags in the waste stream.

But the measure is a watered-down version of the original, which would have banned single-use plastic bags.  Nonetheless, Brunswick Rep. Ralph Tucker, a Democrat, says it’s an important step.

“This bill declares as a matter of state policy that we should try to use reusable bags to avoid getting the plastics into our waste stream.” 

AUGUSTA, Maine - Legislation that would provide criminal immunity for people calling 9-1-1 to report drug overdoses has support from civil liberties advocates in Maine. But some law enforcement officials say the bill goes too far. 

Supporters say a person who has drugs or paraphernalia in their possession might be reluctant to summon help for another person who has overdosed for fear that they might be arrested when police arrive.

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine sparked some national news stories Tuesday after her appearance on a Portland radio station in which she talked about the possibility of running for governor next year.

A new tax credit takes effect this calendar year to help Mainers retrofit their homes to be more accessible for seniors.

The Accessible Home Tax credit is available to those who earn less than $55,000 a year and helps pay for wheelchair ramps and improvements including tubs and showers.

House Speaker Sara Gideon of Freeport says it’s just part of the solution to keeping seniors in their homes.

General assistance — the welfare program that helps low-income Mainers with rent, food and other necessities — is administered by local cities and towns, but most of the cost is picked up by the state. Maine Gov. Paul LePage wants to eliminate that state funding, and lawmakers are also considering other bills designed to make it more difficult to get general assistance benefits.

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, says he’s not sure what the Trump administration’s policy is toward Syria, but he says before taking any other steps, the president should consult with Congress.

King told CNN that he is concerned that the administration's plan might involve combat troops. “Some people have advocated that. I think that would be a huge mistake," King said. "That’s what ISIS wants. They want to bog us down in a land war in Syria.”

There is no dispute that contaminants like lead and arsenic, often found in private water supplies, can cause serious health problems. But Maine lawmakers are struggling with how best to address the problem of unsafe drinking water in private wells, which are not tested as frequently or as comprehensively as public water supplies.

Many Mainers get their water from their own wells, and studies have shown many of those private wells have unsafe levels of lead and arsenic and other contaminants. In some parts of the state as many as half of them are well above recommended levels.

Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press/file

Scores of Democrats filled the staircase in the State House Hall of Flags today as their leaders outlined a proposed budget package. They laid out the major goals of the plan — but not many of the details — in this gambit for crafting a two-year state budget.