We Want to Know: What is Going on with all the Closed-Door Discussions During “Public” Work Sessions?

By Helen Hanlon

We’ve seen several calls for caucus in public hearings before legislative committees this session. What’s the point of a public hearing if the discussion happens behind closed doors? Technically, a caucus is a group of legislators in the same chamber, same party: House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats. A cause meeting is where those groups get together to plan strategy and line up members to particular votes. Informally, in the context of legislative committees, legislators sometimes say, “let’s caucus” to mean, “let’s get together with others in our party to coordinate what we’re going to do next.”

Polly Ward, long time LWVME advocate, was surprised when not once but twice, a caucus was called during a hearing of the SLG Committee. She couldn’t recall ever seeing this before and, Polly being Polly, wanted an answer about this occurrence.

What’s up with these calls for caucus during State and Local Government Committee hearings? All the committees have been known to do this – it has become common practice. How does this practice square with Maine’s open meetings laws? We’d like to know, and no one seems too anxious to tell us. We’re still waiting for answers. Ann Luther, Chair of the LWVME Advocacy Comittee, got on the ball with calls and e-mails to the appropriate officials: no response (oh, they sent an apology for the delay in returning communication but NO information provided about the calls for committee caucus)!

However, some maybe not-so-subtle changes in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee were observed last week. During a hearing, one Representative said, “Let’s CAW… I mean talk among ourselves, I mean let’s go get a bottle of water next door.” Perhaps, just perhaps, the word may be out that Ann and Polly are on to something.

Then, last week, State House Legend Extraordinaire from Eagle Lake, Rep. John Martin extolled the benefits of institutional knowledge during his presentation of Term Limits Repeal legislation (LD182). He cited several outlandish instances where newbie legislators were downright dummkopfs totally unaware of the basic art of legislating. I betcha John Martin would know the answer about this caucus business.

Stay tuned…

 

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