Report from the Statehouse: SLG & VLA Committees April 15

Busy day at the Big House with Bear, Beer and Ballot Initiatives

By Helen Hanlon and Polly Ward

 

Public Hearing, SLG Committee

LD 957  RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Provide for the Popular Election of the Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer of State

This measure has repeatedly been before the Legislature since the nineteenth century. This time, presented by Senator Cushing who said this was “an effort to bring Maine in line with most States,” rather than remaining a part of an aberrant few

Rep. Evangelos (Unenrolled, Friendship) started off with an aggressive list of questions:

  • Was this submitted by Gov. LePage?  Sen. Cushing answered: No.
  • Times require we change, you say. Why? Our system seems to be working ok…. what’s wrong with it? Sen. Cushing replied that our current method is not transparent enough.
  • Does this bill comes from a public disagreement between the Governor and the A.G.? Sen. Cushing said, “of course not – I love them both…”

Rep Evangelos went on to suggest that in passing this measure Maine might have to change its motto to “I follow.” His questions seemed to provide momentum for other Committee members to jump on the bandwagon to seemingly oppose LD 957. Comments were made that big money would pour into the State since this bill without the A.G. to oversee critical elections processes as they currently do and thereby bankrupting the Clean Election Fund.

Representative Justin Chenette of Saco, a co-sponsor, spoke passionately in support of the bill. He addressed the concerns raised by members of the Committee about the influence of outside money, indicating that this was a matter of campaign finance reform and not something that should keep the changes in the bill from going forward.  There was discussion about making the terms of the constitutional officers congruent with the Governor’s term.  This prompted a question about the influence of the Governor on the Attorney General if they were voted in together.  There was a question about whether these positions should be covered under the Clean Election Act. Concerns were expressed about the impact of this change on the Clean Election funds and the possibility that more funds than currently available might be needed.

Just one citizen offered testimony in support of the bill.

Polly Ward offered testified for the LWVME NFNA.
LD 972 An Act To Provide for the Nonpartisan Election of County Officials.

This bill proposes to change election procedures so that county officials would appear on the ballot without a party designation beside their names. The testimony was a mixed bag with without consensus even among county officials: some county officials testified for the bill and others against. A member of the Committee suggested that “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
VLA Committee – Public Hearings

The morning session served up potatoes, craft distilleries and topped it all off with a few shots of vodka (it’s amazing what you can learn at these hearings: I never knew you could make vodka from corn or that Maine farmers harvest almost 2 million pounds of cull potatoes each year to ferment). The finale was a bill allowing underage veterans (not for war but for drinking) to hang out at VFW/VSO facilities — BUT these clubs had no idea this bill was being proposed and were none too pleased about it. (Ooops! Tsk, tsk, Rep. Nadeau – it’s good idea to poll your constituents before proposing a bill)

As fascinating as all that was, our interests were on other bills…

LD 1228 : An Act To Amend the Ballot Initiative Process To Ensure Support in Maine’s Congressional Districts

(Dixie revisited except with a bear theme). At issue here is the current ability of those collecting signatures for a referendum focus on more populated areas filled with people totally clueless about an issue (say bear hunting, for example) that will influence the livelihood of more rural parts of the State. Is this fair? Proportionality and limiting referendum to specific areas of the State impacted by this issue were discussed. Of interest here is the action in states with citizen initiatives to move toward requiring that signatures collected on an initiative reflect the population of a particular part of a state believed to be affected by the issue.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) president actually thanked the Humane Society for pointing this out and spurring action because of all their alleged shenanigans. (Somehow his sincerity seemed questionable to me….)

There seemed to be support for LD 1228 among members of the VLA and Sec. or State (NFNA).

VLA Committee – Work Session

To give you the flavor of the afternoon: One Committee member said the VLA should be renamed the “ONTP Committee.”

 

LD 990: An Act To Limit Agency Expenditures To Influence Elections

Action: ONTP (unanimous). Discussion that this may lead to court challenges; the line between agency responsibility and guidance to the public is a fine one and very difficult to determine.

LD 742: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Require That 5 Percent of Signatures on a Direct Initiative of Legislation Come from Each County.

Action: Tabled until 4/24. Discussion highlighted potential problems: constitutional issues, equal protection clause, violation of 14th Amendment (Utah case cited).

This bill was coupled with

LD 1228 An Act To Amend the Ballot Initiative Process To Ensure Support in Maine’s Congressional Districts

Action: ONTP (unanimous).
LD 1084 RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Exclude Wildlife Issues from Citizen Initiatives

And

LD 754 RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Ensure That Laws Governing Hunting and Fishing Are Not Subject to the Citizen Petition Process

These are similar bills restricting referendum applicable to hunting and wildlife issues. Currently there are no restrictions on citizen initiative topics. Other bills (LDs 703, 753) are similar, as well, and currently before  other committees. They will likely be combined into one bill to move forward.

Action: LD 1084 – Tabled and LD 754 – ONTP.

 

 

 

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