Opinion: Maine has lost its long time commitment to open government

By Mal Leary, Guest Contributor to LWVME blog

When I was growing up, my dad would take me to the annual town meeting where the long tradition of New England open government was on display. Every expenditure of the town was voted on and the town books, the physical ledgers of expenditures, were on a table for townspeople to examine. And they did.

Everyone who was a resident of the town could comment and ask questions, and sometimes it seemed they all did as the day wore on. They participated. Some ran for office, often reluctantly saying somebody has to do it. Most simply showed up and voted for selectmen and participated in the town meeting.

As towns have grown and government at all levels has gotten more complex, there is less direct democracy and more representative democracy. Town Councils have replaced town meetings in many places, and cities have developed more and more services that require more and more employees and a more complex bureaucracy removed from the voters.

The state legislature used to meet once every two years and special sessions were rare because of the difficulty of getting lawmakers to Augusta. Concerned about the loss of transparency with more and more bureaucracy, lawmakers passed Maine’s first open meetings and public records law in 1959.

It stated all records were public and open for inspection and copying, unless the legislature had passed a specific exemption. Those first exemptions were the obvious ones like ongoing criminal investigations. But they have grown to hundreds of exemptions over the years.

All representative government meetings, from selectmen meetings to state lawmakers committees, were also declared open for any in the public to attend. Some specific exemptions were added such as the ability to consult the town attorney on a legal matter or one concerning personnel. But no action could be taken by any board, commission or legislative committee in a closed session.

In recent years the legacy of open government has been eroded. Sometimes it is difficult, even painful, to discuss issues in public. It’s often easier to discuss something on the phone or by email or text, than in front of the public. Particularly if the issue is controversial.

As Ed Muskie once told me, no one asks you to run for public office. It’s something you decide to do and you should be ready to conduct yourself in public. He was a key supporter and author of some of the provisions in the 1974 federal Freedom of Information Act that updated and expanded the original 1966 law that we celebrate this year, fifty years after it was enacted.

In the last few years, we have seen an erosion of the law in Maine.  Last year, worried they were running out of time to get the state budget passed by the start of the new budget year, legislative leaders met privately to craft a budget that would get the needed votes. It was hard. Very hard, but in the end they reached an agreement and rushed the budget to the floor for a vote.

Only they knew all the details in the hundreds of pages, lawmakers had only hours to study the budget and the public had even less time. They made a travesty of the law and their own rules and the budget was passed, and as a reporter I remember finding out about sections and the impact they would have only weeks after the budget was law.

I had served on the legislature’s Right to Know Advisory Committee since it was created in 2005, and decided to resign in protest of the flagrant disregard of the law. The committee has done a lot of good work reviewing proposed exceptions and stopping some bad laws before they were passed. It also has reviewed existing laws and in many cases recommended improvements that were adopted by the legislature.

Recently it was the Executive branch that flagrantly violated the law. Gov. Paul LePage met with members of a statutorily created commission to study education in Maine.  They met at the Blaine House for the first meeting and members of the public and reporters were turned away at the gate.

The meeting was illegal, but there is no easy enforcement mechanism in Maine law. An individual must go to court and get an injunction to stop a meeting. Yes, we have a Public Access Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s office, but they are not independent and do not have the authority to go to court without the Attorney General’s approval. The ombudsman can issue only advisory opinions.

It is not that way in all states. In Connecticut, since 1975, they have had the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission that has the authority to investigate and fine agencies and individuals that violate the law and can go to court to seek further action against violators.

Other states are looking at developing a simple process to appeal records or meeting decisions with an administrative process far less expensive than the courts.

Since its creation in 2000, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition has worked to educate lawmakers, and the public, about open meetings and access to public records. It has had some success, like the requirement all elected officials take an online course about the law. Clearly some either take the course and forget what they learned, or they ignore the law.

We need a stronger law, with penalties for those that willfully violate the law. It will take a lot of work, but advocates for open government need to take up the cause.

 

Mal Leary is Vice President of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and is currently serving as President of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. 

To Caucus or Primary – that is the question

By Helen Hanlon

LD1673, An Act to Establish a Presidential Primary System

The Gang of 3 (Regina Coppens, Stephanie Philbrick, and I) listened attentively to hours of testimony before the VLA Committee. The rooms started out packed, with two camera crews and a long line of people waiting to testify. By 5:30, when the hearing ended, only a few die-hard spectators and Committee members were left. There was lots of discussion and testimony – all of the testimony is available here – but we offer some highlights from the hearing:

The bill was introduced by the main sponsor, Senator Alfond of Portland. Only a fraction of the more than 90 co-sponsors were on hand, but some were there to lend support. According to Senator Alfond, legislators heard lots of complaints after the caucuses. With record turnout across the state for both the GOP and Democratic caucuses, people waited hours in line, and some never even got to vote. In many locations, the traditional caucus format was abandoned for a hybrid system that allowed participants to cast a vote and leave. The result was angry citizens who felt disenfranchised and frustrated. In response, LD 1673 proposes to return to presidential primaries in lieu of the caucus system.

Throughout the testimony, it emerged that many of the problems were caused by poor communication and organization at the party level. Caucuses are the responsibility of the parties, not the state or municipalities, and the Democrats, Republicans, and Greens hold their own caucuses according to national party rules. They also fund the caucuses, provide training for local conveners, and handle public communications about the events. It became clear through testimony that many voters were confused by the system with some thinking that they could still vote in a presdiential primary if they skipped the caucus. Still many more didn’t understand the process and showed up too late to vote (or spent hours in line only to find out they were too late). And more were turned away because they were not registered and the municipal registrars, after staying the required time – and sometimes more – had gone for the day.

After similar issues arose in the past two presidential elections (for Democrats in 2008 and for Republicans in 2012), a bill to return to a presidential primary was proposed. It was, according to Sen. Alfond, put on hold, became a study, and ended there. Presidential primaries were held in 1996 and 2000. Prior to that, Maine traditionally had a caucus system so our current system is a return to one that older generations are familiar with.

The testimony began with co-sponsors and then proponents, so throughout the early part of the hearing speakers said a Primary System seemed to be what most voters wanted. Even some of the Committee members agreed that many voters want to show up, vote, and leave. However, Rep. Schneck (D. Bangor) said his District seemed split 50/50. Everyone agreed that waiting hours to vote was not to be tolerated. And, it was pointed out that once inside a caucus, people waited hours longer to vote and weren’t prepared (or interested) in the other business of the caucus. In Portland, the wait was up to 5 ½ hours – very difficult for younger voters (with odd work schedules) and those with children. In the North and Downeast, caucus-goers had to travel long distances to the one central location offered in their region. In Biddeford, the GOP caucus was shut down by the fire department because the facility was overcrowded. Co-sponsor Joyce Maker (Dist. 140) heard from a constituent who said that it was impossible to attend because she relies on oxygen. Between the long drive each way, waiting in line and waiting to caucus, the supply of oxygen in one bottle isn’t enough. Because of the long wait and long drive, she felt cut out of the system.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap spoke in favor of the bill …. (continued)

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.

 

Maine’s FOA Law Cloudy on Closed-Door Meetings

By Stephanie Philbrick & Ann Luther

Secrecy in government is something that rubs most Americans the wrong way – even if most of us assume it happens. This sentiment is all the stronger as we remember our July 4th national holiday and celebration of democracy. The Advocacy Committee of the League of Women Voters of Maine (LWVME) attends dozens of legislative committee meetings each session precisely because we want to participate in government and monitor the process of law-making. So, when we saw legislative committees repeatedly going into closed-door sessions during public meetings we were concerned. Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOA) defines a public proceeding as, “the transaction of any functions affecting any or all citizens of the State” by the Maine Legislature and its committees and subcommittees…” We question the practice of “corner causes” or closed-door meetings in legislative work sessions because, as Helen Hanlon wrote in her letter to the Kennebec Journal (June 26), “Whether legal or not, the practice is a breach of integrity in our legislative process and undermines transparency in government.”

Closed door discussions are technically allowed by the FOA: “Subject to certain procedural conditions, [committees are allowed] to hold closed “executive sessions” on specified subjects after a public recorded vote of 3/5 of the members present and voting.” While there are undoubtedly times when this practice is appropriate, strictly speaking, this is not the procedure that legislative committees use when calling for a “corner caucus.” No vote is recorded, and the session is not an executive session of the committee as a whole. Rather, the committees divide into two groups along party lines for secret conferences among themselves, and the practice is routine.

What seems to be occurring most often is that, during a public meeting, parties decide to caucus or meet separately to discuss how to proceed. Lisa Pistner, Chief Deputy Attorney General for the State of Maine, recently responded to our questions about closed-door meetings during Legislative Committee meetings: “We have advised that there is no court decision on the subject and that the actual circumstances would be relevant, but that political parties are not governmental entities covered by the Freedom of Access Act.” In 2010 she wrote to Senate Chair Lawrence Bliss on the issue and called party-only caucuses during meetings an issue of “statutory interpretation.” So, it seems that the practice may not break any laws – though this hasn’t been tested in court. Regardless, private meetings were overused this session and certainly go against anyone’s view of government transparency.

The increasing prevalence of closed meetings is bad enough when they form a key off-mic part of the deliberations at public work sessions and when they are immediately followed by committee voting. It is even more troubling when the closed-door meetings generate legislation that is sent directly to the floor without further public comment in committee. This is a double-whammy to the public’s right to know and weigh in on legislation. Yet that also happened this session.

To gain a better understanding of what Maine’s FOA means in this context, we turned to LWVME board member, John Brautigam, for this perspective:

First, the FOA laws are supposed to be “liberally construed and applied to promote their underlying purposes and policies as contained in the declaration of legislative intent.”  1 MRSA 401.  So the law is supposed to be interpreted as strongly as possible to protect the right of the public to access.

On the other hand, the law only applies (in this context) to the legislature, its committees and subcommittees.  1 MRSA 402(2)(A).  This has been interpreted to mean that smaller groups of legislators speaking to each other informally are not covered by the law.  Only the full legislature, the full committee, and full subcommittees are subject to the law.  (Individual legislators are also exempt, although some of them assert that they are covered by the law.)

Some people have argued that when a handful of members of a Standing Committee get together to discuss business of the Committee they should be considered a “subcommittee.”  The legal interpretation that prevails in Augusta, however, is different.  A subset of the Standing Committee is not considered a subcommittee unless it is specifically established by the Committee and charged with doing some specific work.  Otherwise there is no “subcommittee” within the meaning of the FOA requirements.   (The key here is not the name of the group that is meeting, but whether it has been formally established, as opposed to existing on an ad hoc basis.)

One could bring a lawsuit asking a court to rule on whether the closed, small-group gatherings of legislators should be considered “subcommittees” or otherwise should be covered by the FOA law.  It would not be a frivolous case.  But this is so close to the legislature’s own self-governance that where there is uncertainty, most courts would probably defer to the legislature’s interpretation of its own laws.

Legislation to clarify the law would be helpful, and even if not enacted it would send a helpful reminder of the core principles of FOA.

In a long, surreal legislative session that has ended in a circus of vetoes, accusations, and feuds, closed-door meetings might seem like a small issue. However, these issues of ethics and transparency are often overlooked and allowed to slide, and when that happens, we all lose. Our access to government and ability to participate is integral to democracy and all the more important in contentious times. We hope that legislative leadership can be persuaded to interpret our FOA laws so broadly as to end the practice of corner caucuses, but if our current law is inadequate to the task, perhaps that law needs to be refreshed.

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Work Session June 2

By Helen Hanlon

Commiserating with each other about the stalemates, partisanship and whatever else, the State and Local Government Committee held a rare and last minute Tuesday Work Session. All committee members were present and accounted for except for Reps. Evangelos and Libby who were working on other committee assignments. After discussion  of their favorite Capitol-area food (fisherman platter at Red Barn or chowder at the Liberal Cup) and fortified with “made from scratch” Milky Way brownies courtesy of Treasurer  Hayes, members were in a better mood and ready to polish off what was left on their legislative plates…

Almost no one in attendance – just me, a sprinkling of Representatives waiting for the bond bill and Ken Quinn (see our previous post) from Citizens For Self Governance, who was bedecked with a flag pin and lugging a huge briefcase — just in case he was called upon.

WARNING: This is a long one!

LD 1417 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Change the Selection Process for the Attorney General)

Several issues were raised with this bill, including the fact that it has no effective beginning date and no way to transition from the current Attorney General’s term of office.

Action: No discussion. ONTP (6), OTP as amended (5) (current AG allowed to complete current term), Absent (2)

 

LD 1418 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Provide for a Lieutenant Governor and Change the Line of Succession for Governor)

Similar problems plagued this bill: there is no effective start date, it contains confusing language and there is no transition plan. And most importantly, perhaps, there is a potential conflict of interest if the Lt. Governor is called upon to certify their own or the Governor’s election).

Rep. Dore of Augusta made a strong statement about her years working in the Sec. of State’s office with no hint of partisanship and her plan to vote NO.

Action: ONTP (6), OTP as amended (4) (amended to include transition language). Absent (3).
At this point it was really hard to keep track of who was where. It was like Grand Central Station with people coming and going. There were caucuses, people coming in and going out –grabbing the last of the brownies on their way (oohing and aaahing about how really good they were and “what was that recipe?”). Poor Rep. Tuell rolled in in a wheel chair, apparently with a  recent foot injury ( John Kerry , Maine style?) – but there were no brownies left for the poor guy. No one offered me one, either (So much for constituent services!)…

 

LD 1419 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Change the Selection Process for the Treasurer of State)

Transition issues as noted in previous bills.

Action: ONTP (6), OTP as amended (3) (amended to address transition issue), Absent (4)  (OD on chocolate?)

 

HP 804 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONVENTION OF THE STATES TO PROPOSE AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION TO IMPOSE FISCAL RESTRAINTS, LIMIT FEDERAL POWER AND IMPOSE TERM LIMITS)

Rep. Pickett moved to carry this bill over; motion failed.

Rep. Turner moved ONTP. 5 approved ONTP, 3 OTP as amended (amended  with Rep. Short’s language change – not Con/ Con but Convention of States). 5 Absent.

 

HP 956 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO PROPOSE AN AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION REGARDING THE STATUS OF CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE AND THE ROLE OF MONEY IN THE ELECTION PROCESS)

Sponsor Rep. Chapman, as a procedural matter, asked the committee to consider holding the bill over.

Action: ONTP Unan.

 

SP499 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO PROPOSE AN AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION TO REQUIRE A BALANCED FEDERAL BUDGET AND FURTHER FISCAL RESTRAINTS)

Action: ONTP Unan.

 

LD 862 (Act To Clarify Who May Authorize Repairs in a Burying Ground) 

OTP (Unan). The committee gave major huzzahs over their efforts on these graveyard bills which have been hanging around for years and were finally “put to rest.” (Sorry.)

 

LD1378 (An Act to Amend the Laws Governing  The issuance of Bonds  To Support Maine’s Natural Resource based Economy)

This bond business has been in the news recently as our Governor has refused to sign off and has been accused of holding these citizen-initiated bonds hostage for a variety of reasons. It appears that, according to the Attorney General, the Governor’s role in this is basically magisterial and the Legislature can make the call about the process. I am unclear on this but, according to discussion, it seems that this is already addressed in legislation.

Action: ONTP – 5, OTP as amended – 5. Absent – 3

 

LD 66 (Resolve, Naming the Bridges That Span the Machias River in Machias the Jeremiah O’Brien Memorial Bridges)

Brought back for reconsideration. Action:  Motion to Carry Over was Unan.

 

At this point, a pile of papers awaiting final clean-up appeared. It was amendment reviews, but there was also action to get rid of some minority reports. The committee members were really moving in and out of the back room and corridors. Some of the bills we’ve been following were in this pile, so I stayed. There are still 15-16 bills waiting to hit the floor, according to Chair Whittemore. I was the only person left besides the Committee.

 

LD957 (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)

Rep. Turner made a motion to reconsider. Action: ONTP – Unan.

 

LDL1012 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Increase the Length of Terms of Senators)

Motion to Reconsider:  ONTP – Unan.

 

LD1354 (An Act To Improve the Maine Administrative Procedure Act)

This was the Governor’s bill. Despite a short, intensive caucus, Rep, Bryant stated he had major heartburn about this bill and could not support it, necessitating the need for a minority report.

 

LD732, 909 & 999 were also briefly mentioned regarding fiscal notes.

 

Members gladly celebrated nearing end to the session and planned a Friday outing at the Chair’s home (mercifully, I was not invited). So after a long, long afternoon, I followed the trail of chocolate crumbs and went home. I’m glad I am not on that committee, I’d be even fatter – boy, they eat a lot!

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee Public Hearing May 27

By Helen Hanlon

Demonstrators crowded the entrance to the State House for a press conference in anticipation of the Public Hearing on HP 956 (A Joint Resolution Calling For a Constitutional Convention Regarding The Status of Corporations As People and the Role Of Money In the Election Process). Dressed in a variety of garb sure to draw attention – especially in the 90 degree heat –their passion was obvious.

With a full afternoon of hearings ahead, we all streamed into the SLG Hearing room. There was an overflow crowd to hear proposals for changes to the selection process of State constitutional officers (Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer). The full SLG Committee was in attendance, though some needed to leave during the long afternoon for work on other Committees. To my surprise, Senate Chair Whittemore said that each proposal for each office would be heard separately.

LD 1417 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment  to The Constitution Of Maine  To Change The Selection Process for The Attorney General)

LD1418 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Provide For A Lieutenant Governor and Change The Line of Succession For Governor)

LD 1419 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Change the Selection Process for The Treasurer of State)

First-term Legislator, Rep. Stetkis, presented each proposal while acknowledging that these were the Governor’s bills. Despite that, he faced very tough grilling, primarily from Reps. Evangelos and Co-Chair Martin with a few more polite jabs from Rep. Babbidge. Rep. Stetkis, took it in good humor, admitting he’d had no part in writing any of these proposals and hadn’t spoken to the Governor about why we needed these changes. This was all in the spirit of getting away from partisan politics, he said. After the guffaws subsided, the very public issues between the Attorney General and the Governor were rehashed and the consolidation of power was mentioned. Hank Fenton, Deputy Counsel to the Governor, spoke on behalf of the Governor, saying that a more efficient, cohesive team would be better for Maine. No one seemed to buy that argument.

Next we moved on to items of interest to the League: HP 804 and SP499

HP 804 (Joint Resolution Making Application To the Congress of The United States Calling a Convention of the States to Propose Amendments to the United States Constitution To Impose fiscal restraints, Limit Federal Power and Impose Term Limits)

A long list of people signed up to testify and there was a 6-1 ratio in favor of the Resolution. Note: We were surprised to find so much well-organized support for these measures. To learn more about the supporters see the links below.[i]

SP 499 (Joint Resolution Making Application To The Congress of The United States Calling A Constitutional Convention To Propose an Amendment to the United States Constitution to Require a Balanced Federal Budget and Further Fiscal Restraints)

Rep. Short and Rep. Crafts introduced the resolution and spoke about the need to fix the Federal Government, saying that we shouldn’t be afraid to do this. Since there was a packed house, the Committee Chair, stated that there would be a strict 3-minute rule for testimony. Despite that, Ken Quinn of Grassroots Citizens for Self Government (whom Rep. Crafts and Rep. Short called an expert on the topic) was given an hour and a half to speak. Mr. Quinn is apparently leading the charge throughout the land for a “meeting of states” – not a constitutional convention. He stated that whoever wrote the bill did it incorrectly and the wording would need to be amended. His extended testimony turned into a lecture on constitutional convention, Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison and state vs. federal powers. At one point, Rep. Evangelos interjected that he was hearing from all sorts of “arm-chair constitutional scholars” via email on this issue and so facts were thrown back and forth in a match between government history wonks.

Once Ken Quinn brought his testimony to a close, others could speak (it was after 4:30 by then) and the pro/con testifiers alternated with 5-4 ratio in favor. Those supporting the measure railed against our unfair federal government, and one woman even held up a torn $10 bill stating this was all the money she had left and hadn’t been able to pay this year’s or last year’s taxes. She demanded that the government has to get off her back. Meanwhile, her cell phone kept ringing – adding to the cacophony in the room.

Those in opposition included a district rep from the John Birch Society, an Attorney from Connecticut and the League, along with a citizen from Camden who spoke spontaneously (the “League of Voters got it right!” regarding what happens when cutbacks occur in times of crises). I was asked one question after testifying: Rep. Pickett questioned the statement in our testimony about deficit spending being admissible, in our opinion, in times of crises. “What about our $19 trillion deficit?”

The Attorney from Connecticut, Deborah Stevenson, testified testified because she was asked by friends – that is, she was not being paid. Her testimony was precise, interesting and focused, citing specifics of why we should proceed very cautiously when considering a Constitutional Convention. She noted that states have unlimited powers to rectify situations when we don’t want to deal with the Federal Government: we can tell them to take their $ and leave. She and the windy Ken Quinn agreed to return for a work session. Some members of the gallery were restless and objecting during her presentation (because she’s from away). It was enough of an interruption that Rep. Dore ask them to be polite and quiet. Questions from the Committee were xenophobic in nature – who was she & why did she come up from Connecticut for this?  Yipes, someone from away!

Meanwhile the pack of people there for HP956 were getting hungry because it was after 6pm. I headed home, waving “nite-nite” to Danielle Foxx, Legal Analyst extraordinaire from VLA Committee. At least I’ve made some friends this session – but I miss the bear bills & the good ol’ days of February and March!

 

 

[i] http://www.conventionofstates.com/; https://selfgovern.com/ & http://www.themainewire.com/2015/05/quinn-maine-joins-convention-states-movement/

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Work Session May 13

By Helen Hanlon

The session began with many motions, corrections, retractions of motions and confusion about what the Committee was being asked to decide today. It demonstrated to me – once again – the lack of preparation, communication and research in the development and drafting of some of these bills. So often it’s déjà vu all over again because many of these measures have been proposed and reworked for years. I get flashbacks of a comic strip from my youth called, “There Ought to Be a Law” and then envision a bunch of Mainers hard at work to make this a reality show.

After much debate about the process of today’s scheduled work, the Committee unanimously decided to form a 3-member subgroup to draft acceptable language that would allow the bills to pass rather than carrying them through into next session. I should note that Reps. Turner, Babbidge, and Evangelos seemed exceptionally thoughtful and practical throughout today’s work sessions.

 

LD857 (An Act To Prohibit Public Endorsement of Candidates for Office By County Employees and Elected Officials)

Debate continued into the bill discussion… with questions about the rationale for legislating an issue that is probably covered by existing rules and regulations in State, County and Departmental entities. The Committee was unsure how to proceed after Rep. Evangelos stated that he felt there was a conflict at issue since they had been asked to decide on the popular election of  an Attorney General (LD743) and to weigh in on LD857.

It was proposed that Committee vote ONTP with a letter asking the Secretary of State to review existing regulations for any conflicts or loopholes, but Rep. Evangelos made the sensible suggestion that the Chair and Co-chair simply send a letter seeking advice from the Sec. of State on how or if to proceed. Phew!

 

LD 1354 (An Act To Improve The Administrative Procedure Act)

This bill repeals a requirement that rules be approved for form and legality by the Attorney General and adds a requirement that rules be submitted to the Attorney General for advice as to form and legality. It changes a statutory provision regarding the taking of private property and notice requirements; allows for electronic submission of certain rule-making information; and enacts a provision that allows an agency to choose to incorporate by reference certain amendments to a code, standard, rule or regulation.

Rep. Martin forcefully maintained that there should be no change to the existing process and suggested the bill stemmed from the “Governor’s major heartburn with the Attorney General.”  Rep. Turner, however, felt that they “should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” She urged the Committee to work on parts of the bill that made sense and keep provisions 3, 4, 5, 6.

On the ONTP motion, the vote was split 6-6 with one absent.