As Memorial Day weekend is upon us, it’s important to reflect on the true meaning of the day and what is being done to support those who put their lives on the line. It’s easy to take the weekend for granted as just an additional day off, but we must not lose sight of the heroes among us.
I come from an extended military family. Cousins, uncles, grandfathers, you name it, I have a family member who has served in various branches of the Armed Forces in various wars and conflicts. It makes me proud that they have chosen this particular way of serving our country.
While we can always do better in society on this front, there is good work taking place in our community to support our veterans.
For instance, we have some exciting news in Old Orchard Beach. Veterans will now be able to park for free, with their veterans plates clearly displayed, in any town lot or space with a parking meter on Memorial Day itself.
Memorial Day weekend is usually the official start to the summer tourism season, so naturally it’s a time to put up the parking meters. The least we could do on the day itself is to let veterans park for free. After all, the parade and the ceremonies are for them and honoring the memory of their fallen comrades.
This week the Masons, Saco Lodge No. 9, delivered dozens of bikes to students at Fairfield, Young, and Burns schools for the third year in a row.
I was honored to be there alongside the Masons as the bikes were randomly distributed at school assemblies to some very deserving kids. It was especially neat to see how the kids cheered for their fellow peers even when they knew they weren’t going to get a prize. It demonstrated that it wasn’t just about them, but about seeing their friends succeed and be happy – such an important life lesson for all.
The Saco Bikes for Books program achieves two very important missions. Number one it promotes childhood literacy and gets kids excited for reading tangible books. Young School, for instance, reads a combined total of well over 500 books. Keep in mind this is above and beyond any work currently being done in the classroom. Number two it gets kids outside. In this day and age of smart phones and eyeballs glued to some type of device, these bikes represent a catalyst to get outside, breathe the free air and smell the roses. Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. It’s the idea of being kids again and not reliant on technology to keep yourself entertained.
This all culminates into the Saco Community Bike Rodeo this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Saco Public Works Facility on North Street. It’s a fun, free, family event with bike safety checks, a bike course, helmet safety station with free fittings, Touch a Truck, raffles, wellness vendors and and more. The kids who won bikes at school can pick them up and everyone is encouraged to bring their bikes to participate. If you would like to donate a bike or scooter or nonperishable food, organizers will be collecting donations to distribute to those in need. I’ll be there with Saco Main Street, so be sure to stop by and say hello.
By now you’ve probably heard in some form that the Legislature is crippled with partisan gridlock and currently in recess until we head back in to deal with the governor’s long list of vetoes.
I’d like to provide some perspective on this situation.
Last week, a small group of House Republicans voted to block an extension of the legislative session, blocking our ability to continue working. They essentially shut down the Legislature from finishing the work we had left. Bills like transportation bonds for roads and bridges, Medicaid expansion, funding for our schools, banning conversion therapy, implementing marijuana business licenses, expanding student loan assistance, and how to deal with state level changes from the Trump tax plan. Important pieces of legislation destined to just die without debate, without a vote.
This childish display of strategic antics is unacceptable. We were elected to do a job and it’s time to do it. We can’t just negate our duties because you want to go home. I’m here, ready to work until the job is done whether it’s today, tomorrow or two months from now.
I often talk about the influence of lobbyists at the statehouse in Augusta. For the most part my advocacy on this topic centers around reducing the role money plays with lobbyist influence, but we can’t ignore the culture that we’ve allowed to be created in the hallowed halls.
Pay-for-play is common practice and at this point is pretty common knowledge. The special interest group and corporate lobbyist with the largest checkbook has the most direct influence over public policy decision making. What isn’t as known, is how lobbyists are treated versus legislators.
It’s not often we can say both sides came together for the greater good, but that is exactly what has happened.
Democrats and Republicans overwhelming rejected the governor’s veto on my bill, LD 1030 An Act to Require Non Discrimination Policies in Providing Health Care Services.
The Maine Senate voted 32-2 to override the veto and the Maine House followed suit 135-11. This was after a unanimous report from the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. This means my bill now becomes law and will begin impacting policies in January 2019.
The new law will prevent insurance companies from excluding payment for care received from a naturopathic doctor practicing within the scope of their license. This means insurers will have to pay for health care provided by licensed naturopaths, as they would for care given by other licensed providers, such as medical doctors, osteopathic physicians and nurse practitioners.
The law also prohibits insurance companies from charging higher co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for naturopathic care. In addition, insurance companies may not exclude naturopathic physicians from their network on the basis of their training and licensure.
Every year like clockwork, there is an event that unites us. Brings people of all walks of life (literally) together for something much bigger than ourselves individually. A true collective conscious. The event of course is Mary’s Walk.
That feeling you get when you are in the midst of thousands of your friends, neighbors, and complete strangers walking towards a common goal and purpose down Main Street is truly indescribable. There is no better text-book definition of what having a strong sense of community is all about.
We are once again faced with the horror of a mass school shooting.
Before my family moved to Maine, I went through grade school in Florida. The idea that a mass shooting would take place at any school, let alone one that I could have attended, is unconscionable. That could’ve been me. It could’ve been my friends shot to death for simply being at a place of learning. The one place you are supposed to feel safe. Since the shooting, I have been trying to find the right words to say. I can’t imagine what those at the school not only went through during it, but also in dealing with the emotional aftermath.
Downtowns and village centers are the beating hearts of our communities.
You only need to stroll down Main Street in Saco to feel the pulse. There is something special about bumping into your neighbor at the post office, or seeing students walking home from school, or grabbing an impromptu cup of coffee at CIA Cafe or a bite to eat at Quiero with a close friend that makes you feel connected to something larger than yourself.
For the fifth year in a row, I’ve had the honor of participating in the Saco Museum’s Festival of Trees. The month-long event has quickly become one of my favorite Christmas traditions. People from all over our communities come together to decorate trees and other decorations to benefit the museum and the Dyer Library. The result is a beautiful holiday display that brings out the child in all of us.
The Festival of Trees makes the Christmas spirit unavoidable, even for the Grinches among us. As I decorated my tree, in honor of the brave men and women of the Saco Fire Department, I thought about what that Christmas spirit means to me.
To me, Christmas is about the generous spirit that ought to guide us all year. The holiday brings out charity and kindness, not just toward our loved ones but to all our fellow man. That’s why charitable giving spikes during the holiday season.
I believe the spirit of Christmas should animate our behavior all year — not just in our individual acts but in our public policies as well. A decent society is one that displays the same kindness and goodwill to its citizens that we show toward one another during the Christmas season.
The arts have a special place in my heart. As a former trumpet player, I have fond memories of marching band, holiday concerts and the need to clean out my spit valve. When I was a graduating senior at Thornton Academy, I even received the Arts Department Award recognizing my efforts within the arts, specifically with the television station, TATV Channel 3.
The role arts played in my life early on has led me to champion the importance of the arts not just in the Legislature but right here at home.
STEM refers to the importance of prioritizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics in public schools. There is a growing movement to make it STEAM, by adding arts into the mix. Studies have proven direct links between students exploring their creativity in the arts with doing better in academic classes and learning important skills such as team building, communication and self-expression.
Last year, I started the Arts Action Fund, a grant designed to help local arts classrooms with innovative new projects and to help cover supply costs. It’s my way of giving back to a school system that has given so much to me. I am who I am today because of the dedicated teachers and mentors I grew up with.
Our 2016-2017 recipients were Burns School in Saco, Loranger Memorial in Old Orchard Beach, and Saint James in Biddeford. Burns School used the grant money to fund a variety of ethnic instruments. Loranger Memorial started a ukulele program and Saint James purchased a variety of band instruments for students most in need.
This year, our 2017-2018 recipients are: Saco Middle School, Old Orchard Beach High School and Burns School. Saco Middle School is using the grant to reinvigorate and make improvements to its performance arts space: a new stage curtain, performance lights, audio system, etc. At Old Orchard Beach High School, arts teachers are putting their students through a cultural immersion experience by drawing and painting a community mural map of the world. For Burns School, we doubled its strings budget.
In total, we have invested more than $2,500 into classrooms throughout our area with your help and the help of local businesses through my nonprofit organization. Our work is far from over, but hopefully this will continue to spark renewed interest in a subject matter that yields lifelong results.
Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the marketing coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/ JustinChenette.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco