AUGUSTA (AP) – A legislative panel has endorsed the nomination of veteran state finance expert John Nicholas to head the Department of Human Services.

Nicholas, who lives in Winthrop, already is serving as acting commissioner and is Gov. John Baldacci’s choice to head a super agency combining Maine’s two big social service agencies – DHS and the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services.

The Nicholas nomination won the backing of the Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 11-2.

Democratic Sen. Michael Brennan of Portland, the co-chairman of the Health and Human Services panel, voted against recommending confirmation, reiterating his view that he did not believe the governor’s choice had adequate grounding in issues pertaining to mental health, health care and other substantive areas that would be within the new department’s jurisdiction.

“While I support Jack Nicholas, I don’t support this nomination,” Brennan said.

Among those differing with Brennan was Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, another Health and Human Services panelist, who said he believed it was a good time to have a finance expert heading the Human Services Department.

Previously Maine’s state budget officer from 1992 to 2002, Nicholas returned to state government last fall after a year as chief financial officer for Catholic Charities Maine.

Meanwhile, Baldacci has nominated his chief business regulator for a District Court judgeship.

Former Bangor lawmaker Robert Murray, who currently serves as commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, was credited by the governor Tuesday with brokering an agreement backed by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine AFL-CIO to restructure the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board.

“Buddy Murray’s distinguished career as lawyer, legislator and commissioner of Professional and Financial Regulation makes him well-equipped to serve as Bangor District judge,” Baldacci said in a statement.

The Department of Professional and Financial Regulation regulates state-chartered banks, credit unions, bank holding companies, insurance companies, investment providers and over 40 professions and occupations.

Before joining the Baldacci administration, Murray was a partner in the Bangor law firm of Rudman and Winchell. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law.

Murray was a member of the Maine House of Representatives from 1982 to 1986. After a decade-long break, he served in the Maine Senate from 1996 to 2000.

Maine’s District Court system, which handles civil and criminal matters, has 33 judges serving in 13 districts and 31 locations throughout the state.

In addition to his departmental duties, Murray has served as an ex-officio nonvoting member of the board of directors of Maine’s fledgling Dirigo Health program.


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