By Katie Stevenson
On February 15th I testified in front of the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs against L.D. 155. It was the first time I had ever testified in front of anyone, let alone a state legislature. It was also the first time I had ever stepped into the Maine State House — I doubt it will be the last. I am currently a senior at Bates College and live in Lewiston. And, as I explained to the Legislature, I feel far more invested in Lewiston that I do in my hometown in New Jersey.
Let me tell you why I decided to testify. On November 5th 2016, my friends and I woke up to hear that flyers had been distributed around campus, falsely informing students that in order to vote in Lewiston we had to pay to change our driver’s licenses and re-register our cars in Lewiston. While it was disheartening to know that some students may have been successfully dissuaded by this these flyers, it was a relief to know that they were nothing more than a collection of lies. This relief crumbled when Representative Fredette proposed LD 155. NOTE: The work session for this bill is Friday March 23 before the VLA Committee in Augusta. The League will be there.
At the hearing before the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, Representative Fredette remarked that the residency requirements he was proposing were designed to demonstrate that students had “an intent to stay.” This struck me on a personal level because next year I’ll be attending a medical school program specifically aimed at training students to be physicians in rural communities in Maine. Re-registering my car, changing my drivers’ license, and paying property taxes in Maine (all of which LD 155 proposes as requirements for determining residency) hasn’t been financially and logistically reasonable for me while in school and probably won’t be for the time I’m in medical school, either. Why these actions should demonstrate an “intent to stay” any more than my commitment to a Maine medical school program and intention to practice in Maine is still unclear to me.
However, the lack of clarity in this proposal is not my biggest concern. The problem with this legislation is that it would undermine the development of the so-called “intent” that it claims to support. Maine has the oldest population in the country and is constantly looking for ways to keep or attract young people. The success of Maine’s future depends on young people “from away” who are willing to live and work here. I chose to testify because I believe that LD 155 sends a message that is harmful to Maine. This message is one which, ultimately, will lead to significantly fewer students feeling as passionately about their communities as my friends and I do now.
I love Lewiston and feel invested there beyond my classwork at Bates. Part of this love is based in my feeling that Lewiston wants me to be here. It’s clear to me that my students, my neighbors, and my city representatives want me here and that my participation in the city matters. I have invested in Lewiston and I feel the city has invested in me. Communities are reciprocal by nature. They cannot exist if the feeling of community isn’t mutual.
This proposed bill takes this message of mutual appreciation and investment and throws it in the mud. It suggests that regardless of how many hours students have spent volunteering at local elementary school, working at a local cafe, canvassing for elections, attending town hall meetings, or simply reading the local newspaper, our presence does not matter. The state does not want to invest in us.
Actions aimed at minimizing the voice and involvement of students threatens to undermine the future of relationships like mine. These relationships are an important part of Maine’s future and the legislation that damages them will have a very real and detrimental impact. I don’t want to see that happen to Lewiston and I don’t want to see that happen to Maine.
Katie Stevenson is a senior at Bates College. She is working on a self-designed interdisciplinary major in Peace and Conflict Studies but plans to study medicine after college. She has been accepted into a medical program that offers clinical training experience in rural Maine communities.