VLA Committee January 15

By Stephanie Philbrick

Committee confirmation of William Lee on the Ethics Commission. Mr. Lee has a very impressive legal resume and, as he spoke extemporaneously, it became clear that he is also a college professor. At times, his presentation before the committee sounded more like a class lecture than an introduction. The mood of the Committee was light, though, and Sen. Cyrway cracked himself up by asking how the VLA was doing on ethics issues. In a more serious way, Rep. Golden asked what Maine was doing right. Mr. Lee, not quite answering the question, cited Maine’s rural nature, integrity, trust and professionalism as characteristics that make our state great. It would have been nice to hear about the processes and regulations that work well, perhaps with his opinions on citizens’ initiatives, Clean Elections, access to voting and citizen involvement opportunities. Those questions didn’t come up, and so we don’t really know how he would have answered. Instead we got a bit of cheerleading and quite a bit about why the American system is so much better than those in Cuba and the former U.S.S.R. In the end, the Committee unanimously voted to recommend Mr. Lee for confirmation. He was unanimously confirmed by the full Senate on January 19th.

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

Carried over from last session, LD 742 is a vestige (hopefully the last) of the controversial bear baiting referendum. Extensively reworked, the amended bill was somewhat confusing, and it took some discussion for everyone to be clear on just what was being discussed. Despite the title, with amendments the result is this:

petitions for citizen initiatives must submit signatures from each congressional district representing 10% of the turnout that voted in the previous gubernatorial election in that congressional district (Maine has two).

Senator Cyrway felt very strongly that this was a better system, saying, “It’s good. We’ve worked on it because in other states one section of the state can control the entire election just because the population concentration is in one area. This allows different regions to weigh in despite population.” There was some discussion about constitutionality, but it was noted that a similar process was tested in the Nevada courts and deemed okay because of the one-man one-vote theory.

Midway through the discussion, Rep. Longstaff said that he was unwilling to vote yes because he doesn’t support dividing Maine into two for election purposes and because, in any given election, a local issue can sway the turnout and affect the entire state. Immediately, a party caucus was called and the work session was halted. Democrats left while Republicans milled about the room. It’s not clear why a caucus was called because the discussion continued pretty much as before with Sen. Cyrway reiterating why the bill was good and Rep. Turner agreeing, “Will level the playing field. Gives small communities a voice on petitions.”

Result: divided report.



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