PRESS RELEASE: Governor Mills signs bill requiring Maine Legislature to hold public hearing on ballot initiatives
Governor Mills signs bill requiring Maine Legislature
to hold public hearing on ballot initiatives
PORTLAND – Governor Janet Mills today signed LD 1209, “An Act To Require Legislative Hearings on Citizen-initiated Legislation” into Maine law. The bipartisan bill requires the Maine Legislature to hold public hearings on all citizen initiatives before they appear on the statewide ballot. While the Maine Legislature already has the option to hold public hearings on ballot measures, lawmakers in recent years have elected not to hold a public hearing on these issues before sending them to voters.
“Governor Mills’ signing of LD 1209 is a monumental victory for transparency in the ballot initiative process,” The Maine Heritage Policy Center CEO Matthew Gagnon said. “Too often have lawmakers punted on their responsibility to vet these questions before they are sent to Maine voters.
We commend Rep. Bradstreet for sponsoring this bill, the Committee on State and Local Government for working with us to reach a unanimous vote out of committee and Governor Mills for signing this important legislation. Ballot initiatives are supposed to reflect the will of Maine people. By ensuring a public hearing is held on these matters, all Mainers will have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the merits of a pending initiative,” Gagnon said.
In its original form, LD 1209 would have required the committee of jurisdiction or a committee formed by the Legislative Council to hold a public hearing on all initiatives for which the Maine Secretary of State approves petitions. Under the amended version of LD 1209 signed into law by Gov. Mills, lawmakers would be required to hold a public hearing on a ballot measure unless two-thirds of all members present in both legislative chambers vote against holding a hearing. This is an exceptionally high threshold that will be difficult to reach, injecting a new layer of transparency into Maine’s ballot initiative process.
Since 2012, the Maine Legislature has chosen to hold a public hearing on just one ballot initiative – Question 1 in 2017, or LD 719 in the 128th Legislature – an initiative that would have established slot machines or a casino in York County. The measure failed overwhelmingly at the ballot box, with 83 percent of Maine voters rejecting it.
“The value of a public hearing is unquestionable,” Gagnon said. “The bills debated on a regular basis in Augusta are afforded public hearings, work sessions and amendment and language reviews. They each get special care and attention in committee that ballot initiatives have not received.”
According to materials distributed at the public hearing and work session on LD 1209, lawmakers held a public hearing on every ballot initiative considered by Maine voters between 1977 and 2011, and proposed three competing measures. By requiring the Legislature to hold a public hearing, lawmakers will have the opportunity to engage with the public and learn more about the initiative, increasing the likelihood of the legislature adopting a competing measure that addresses any concerns with the original language of the measure.
“Lawmakers should learn as much as they can about an initiative before taking formal action, and should seriously consider the value of adopting competing measures when legitimately flawed initiatives achieve ballot status,” Gagnon said.
LD 1209 is one of several important ballot initiative reform measures being considered by the Maine Legislature this session. LDs 255, 534 and 1669 are other valuable reforms that The Maine Heritage Policy Center hopes to work with lawmakers to advance this session.
“Our organization remains committed to improving the ballot initiative process in ways that enhance transparency and citizen participation without causing undue burden for petitioning groups or restricting the process.”
The Maine Heritage Policy Center (MHPC) is a nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to freeing people from dependency, creating prosperity, and redefining the role of government. MHPC formulates and promotes free-market, conservative public policies in the areas of health care, education, regulations, government transparency and tax and fiscal policy. To learn more about MHPC or review our policy work, visit: www.mainepolicy.org