Report from the Statehouse: VLA Public Hearings April 6

By Helen Hanlon

The joint was hopping with a small crowd of folks outside and inside the Capitol concerned about fishing rights — and of course our bear folks. I must say, I found today kind of edifying, in a strange sort of way, because an overflow crowd filled two rooms at the morning hearings.

It was odd to see the usual proponents of these citizen initiative bills (S.A.M., trappers, Guides,  hunting camp associations, and the man I think of as the “Wolf Man from Michigan” — he is anti-Humane Society, believing they are all vegan, wolf-loving, anti-hunters wishing to spread contaminated protein to destroy our world) joined by opponents of these bills. Along with the Director of the much-maligned Humane Society, there were many thoughtful individuals at the hearings today — some of whom got the “gestalt” of these issues.

Amending the Constitution has many ramifications, and in this case that includes: silencing the voice of the people, the influence of big money, and violence and its impact on our society. Forces were out on both sides of the issue, and testimony was emotional and far-ranging today. It included:

  • Public employees shouldn’t feel coerced by influential or big-money groups.
  • One speaker even alleged that a nationwide campaign proposed changes to state constitutions to suppress voting rights.
  • The impact on native peoples and their relationship with nature.

One message was clear: changing the Constitution is serious business.

 

LD990 (An Act to Limit Agency Expenditures to Influence Elections)

Seen as a policy bill, LD990 extends existing restrictions on state workers in political campaigns to include citizen initiatives. There was testimony about free speech, state agency responsibilities for public education, and employee coercion in political campaigns. Concern was expressed that the opinion of Maine experts is being drowned out by big money ($31,000 spent by Maine Wildlife and over $2 million each spent by the For and Against factions during the bear referendum last year), and this was offered as a reason to allow State wildlife officials involvement in political campaigns.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn testified NFNA. She expressed concern about how the bill would affect the “Citizens Guide,” which is produced by the Secretary of State’s office before elections. The Citizen’s Guide provides detailed information about ballot questions, with detailed analysis of the intent and content of each question. The election law also allows for citizen advocacy and agency statements to be published supporting or opposing questions, which also provides important information to voters.


LD754 (Constitutional Amendment Ensuring Laws Governing Hunting and Fishing Are not Subject to Citizen’s Petition Initiatives
) & LD1084 (Constitutional Amendment Excluding Wildlife From Citizen’s Initiatives) – A joint hearing

Testimony revealed that there is already an effort to bring the bear issue back before voters again. The hunting contingent is opposed to this and is looking for a way to end the issue. They proposed leaving this issue in the hands of professional wildlife managers and not big money interests (not sure who this is, but that was the testimony). Rep. Devon, a marine biologist, supports LD754LD1084 but wants to include invertebrates (lobsters, for example). They add millions of dollars to our economy, and he added, “Tourists don’t come to Maine to eat chicken sandwiches.”

Proponents of these bills see the need for a more thoughtful examination of these issues and recommended carry-over into the next legislative session – I’m thinking of it as a sort of legislative hibernation.

The rooms cleared for lunch break at 12:45. Upon my return there was whiff of (could it be…?) Bear spoor? Moldy donuts? Aged cooking oil? Oh, and a much smaller group of people stuck around to hear the next bill.

LD742 (An Amendment to the Maine Constitution requiring 5% of signatures on a Direct Initiative Come from Each County)

No discussion on LD742!

 

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