Impact on Issues: the positions behind our advocacy work

Introducing Impact on Issues from the League of Women Voters of Maine

By Stephanie Philbrick

impact-lwv-jan-2017We believe that transparency and accountability are essential to a functioning government and we closely monitor the Maine Legislature to make sure they are conducting business in an open and accessible manner. Because of that, we hold ourselves to the same standard. Our positions and actions are public and, while we wholeheartedly stand behind our established positions, we welcome discussion about our work. Impact on Issues is one of the ways that we work to educate our members and the public about our work.

This report describes our current priorities and the positions that are the basis for our advocacy work. It’s also a ten-year retrospective of the work that we’ve done in these policy areas. Our positions align with those of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. (LWVUS) but reflect local priorities and the unique nature of Maine’s citizenry and politics. We focus on areas of specific concern in our state, with an emphasis on voting rights, elections administration, campaign finance and good government.

We also endeavor to shine a light on policy work in Augusta throughout each legislative session. We regularly report on specific bills, legislative committees, hearings, work sessions and other aspects of Maine government through this blog. This year, we’re expanding our work in this area to better track what goes on in Augusta. Look for:

  • legislative scorecards on selected bills we follow
  • Action Alerts, updates and event info on Twitter and Facebook
  • an updated version of Impact on Issues after the legislative session ends

At the foundation of our work is the belief that any and all citizens should be able to access (and understand) our government if they want to. We hope you’re inspired to make use of all that the League has to offer to stay informed. And if you’re ready to take action:

  • Join us! There are lots of ways to get involved in state and local issues through the state League and local chapters.
  • Go to a legislative hearing/work session – look for us (with our League buttons on)!
  • Call your legislators
  • Write an op-ed in your local newspaper

 

 

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Upcoming: League Study on Constitutional Amendments + C-SPAN Looks at Landmark Cases

By Helen Hanlon

Distinguished Maine League members, Ann Luther and Ann Schinck have been hard at work as participants in a national study committee on Constitutional Amendments for the League of Women Voters. Their research, enthusiasm for American history, and collaboration with peers and experts make us proud. We applaud their work and eagerly anticipate working with our local Leagues on the study and consensus process, with final study report due in 2016. National and local studies like this are the backbone of our policy formulation at the League, and serious research goes into them because they underlie our advocacy and endorsements.

During our 2015 Maine Legislative Lobby activities, we learned of several proposals pushing for a Convention of States — an Article V Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution — and several other proposals to amend our Maine Constitution. Efforts like these are now part of our American landscape as some citizens seek to change or resurrect aspects of our Constitution. Many are intrigued – and speaking for myself, I find myself wanting to know more about that process. That is why I’m looking forward to the League’s study later this year. You can read the background material for yourself online at the national League’s web site.

Until then, I’ll be watching a new C-SPAN series on the Constitution and the Supreme Court. In conjunction with the National Constitution Center, the series is a 12 week program on Landmark Cases, decided by the Supreme Court. Starting with the often-cited Marbury V. Madison (1803), the series presents the people and history behind decisions that changed our country, interpreted our Constitution, and are still debated today. The series is airing Mondays at 9pm on C-span beginning Oct. 5th. Read all about it and see clips from the series at the C-SPAN website.

If you’re like me and feel the need to understand the background of our political system, this is an opportunity to learn more about the Supreme Court and our Constitution as the fabric of our nation.

Why Voter Registration is a Top Priority

The League of Women Voters of Maine has a long history of promoting democracy at the ballot box. In recognition of national Voter Registration Day, let’s review why voter registration is a top priority of the LVW, the pathways to voter registration, and how we can all use voter registration as an opportunity for a larger discussion about democracy.

First, our voter registration effort reinforces the LWV’s longstanding campaign to end discrimination in voting rights. As the LWV has worked to extend the suffrage to the broadest possible population, we have learned that having the technical right to vote is not always enough. We know that barriers to voting continue to weaken our democracy.

Some of those barriers are the result of policies that needlessly burden those who would like to participate in voting and have something to contribute. Over the years, the LWV has fought against onerous identification and residency requirements imposed by state lawmakers and election officials. Whether these are cynical attempts to circumvent the right to vote, or just misguided efforts to protect the “sanctity of our elections,” the LWV has worked to eliminate unreasonable voter registration rules so that the process of choosing our leaders and deciding on referenda and other voter-determined policy matters is open to the full expression of the voice of the public.

Other barriers to voting are tied to the experience of the voters themselves. For every voter, there is a first time. Until then, voting can be a new and intimidating ritual. People worry that they may be embarrassed by the voting process or overwhelmed by the need to make choices in a context that feels unfamiliar. What are the issues and who are the candidates one must decide upon? Where do I register? Where do I vote? What do I actually need to do to complete a ballot and have it accepted? The LWV has attempted to lower these self-imposed barriers by providing appropriate voter-education materials, supportive outreach to newly eligible voters, and helpful public reminders of the schedule, locations and logistics of elections at all levels.

The LWV”s overall goal is to make sure that the necessary steps of voter registration do not create an undue burden, deterring eligible voters from participating in our system of self-government. As a nation we have rejected overt voting discrimination against non-property owners, women, and others. We enhanced our democracy by defeating those discriminatory voting laws, and by the same token we should not tolerate unreasonably high hurdles to voter registration.

As the 2015 election approaches, the LWV is now involved in registering voters in high schools across Maine. The LWV has also reached out to other unregistered citizens of all ages across the state to encourage them to register and vote. And we also support and participate in voter registration efforts held in conjunction with periodic citizenship ceremonies held to welcome immigrants who are joining our state and country.

The most recent citizenship ceremony was held on September 17th. LWV member Peg Balano stated that “the judicial ceremony was impressive as usual.” There was a very long receiving line reflecting the strong interest in becoming a voter and accepting the other responsibilities of citizenship. The LWV had six representatives helping that day. Peg also reported that “there were 90 new citizens from 39 countries and we registered 35. . . . I think everyone from the league really enjoyed it.”

Citizenship ceremonies and all of the other pathways to voting are also pathways for LWV members (and others) who want to share in the satisfaction of supporting our democracy in a very tangible way. Those who participate in helping people become voters are rewarded with a renewed appreciation for the awesome rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and for the opportunity to play a role in giving that experience to more people.

As Voter Registration Day approaches, we encourage everyone who cares about democracy to find a way to help register voters or to participate in one of the LWV’s voter registration programs. It is a great way to help increase active participation in our elections and to promote deeper discussions about civic activism and our mutual responsibility for self-government.

Join us for Voter Registration Week events around the state!

We’ll be at the Maine State Library from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Tuesday September 22. The Portland Area LWV is focusing on student registrations this year as part of its National Voter Registration Day efforts. Voter drives started September 16 at the University of Maine Augusta and continue at various locations until October 8 at Casco Bay High School. For more information please contact them at lwvportland@maine.rr.com.

 

 

LWVME Position: Where We Stand on Gun Control

By Cathie Whittenburg

The League of Women Voters believes in transparency and open discussion on political and social issues. To foster this idea we’ll be making occasional posts about our positions, advocacy work and research. Not every member of the League believes exactly the same thing but we (both nationally and locally) put a lot of effort into researching and parsing the issues that we face as citizens in order to formulate positions that represent the broadest base of our membership. LWVME has members across Maine, and is a non-partisan group open to women and men. We hope that you’ll join the discussion (and join the League!).

 

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons in the United States is a major health and safety threat to its citizens. The League supports strong federal measures to limit the accessibility and regulate the ownership of these weapons by private citizens. The League supports regulating firearms for consumer safety.

The League supports licensing procedures for gun ownership by private citizens to include a waiting period for background checks, personal identity verification, gun safety education and annual license renewal. The license fee should be adequate to bear the cost of education and verification.

The League supports a ban on “Saturday night specials,” enforcement of strict penalties for the improper possession of and crimes committed with handguns and assault weapons, and allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.

 

Since adopting this strong stand on gun control in 1990, the League of Women Voters has actively, forcefully and consistently worked to reduce gun violence in the United States. Over the years, LWVUS has supported the passage of the Brady background check bill, urged passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, voiced concern over the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and supported background checks on all gun sales.

Local leagues have also joined in the fight, holding community meetings and forums, testifying before state legislators and joining in rallies to promote gun violence prevention. Here is a glimpse of just a few of the recent activities happening across the country:

  • League of Women Voters of Washington was one of the first groups to join the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility in 2013. The coalition worked for the successful passage of a ballot initiative that expanded background checks of guns purchases. In November 2014, I-594 passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
  • Florida League of Women Voters joined in the successful fight to keep guns off college campuses in Florida. The controversial bill to allow students and faculty to carry loaded, hidden weapons on college campuses was recently reintroduced for the 2016 Legislature. FLWV is already taking action, holding a summit for leaders who oppose the bill.
  • In May, the League of Women Voters of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area in Illinois, presented a program “Our Increasing Threat From Guns in the 21st Century ” The program featured Bob Spiel, a retired FBI agent, and Mark Walsh, Campaign Director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
  • League of Women Voters of Colorado testified this session against a number of state bills aimed to weaken gun laws. The defeated bills would have repealed the state background check bill, repealed the state high capacity magazine ban, allowed concealed guns in K-12 schools, and allowed people to carry concealed weapons without first having to get a permit.
  • League of Women Voters of New Mexico has joined a coalition working to pass a Child Access Prevention law in New Mexico. The bill, which would penalize gun owners for negligent storage of firearms, will be presented to the state legislature in November.
  • Fairfax-area League of Women Voters in Virginia held a forum in March, “Firearms: Reducing the Risk in Fairfax County.” The forum looked at the role of firearms in domestic violence and suicide.
  • Here in Maine, the LWVME gave testimony against LD 652, An Act to Authorize the Carrying of Concealed Handguns Without a Permit. The testimony pointed to the fact that the law would allow someone who has never had any gun safety training and who has no concept of the laws governing the use of firearms in public to stick a gun in their pocket and go just about any place they want. Doing away with permits would also eliminate the background check that is involved in the permitting process. When you combine that with the fact that Maine already allows for the private sale of guns where there is no background check run, this law would only serve to embolden felons and other prohibited people. Despite the fact that the bill was opposed by 84% of Mainers surveyed as well as the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Maine Chiefs of Police, Governor LePage signed LD 652 into law in July.

This is just a partial list of the ways the League of Women Voters works to prevent gun violence. Over the years, while legislators have run away from the issue of common sense gun laws, the League has stood strong. “Gun control is a matter of public safety and public health. It is long past time for vital measures to stop the carnage.”