What’s driving the push to change Maine’s petition law

The Maine Legislature started a quiet push on Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment on the 2017 ballot that could rein in the state’s increasingly used — and some say abused — citizen initiative process.

It always promised to be one of the big issues facing lawmakers after an election last year in which Maine voters passed four ballot measures: marijuana legalization, a surtax on income over $200,000 to fund education, a minimum wage increase and a ranked-choice voting system.

The November ballot will have two more questions that would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and hand a York County casino to a controversial developer.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives and Senate passed a joint order that will allow the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to formulate a proposed constitutional amendment on Maine’s referendum process.

Amendments require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers and ratification by Maine voters. Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the committee’s co-chairman, said lawmakers’ aim is to get an amendment on the ballot in 2017.

The centerpiece of such a package could be a proposal to require groups trying to qualify for the ballot to get a number of signatures equaling 10 percent of voters in the past gubernatorial election in both of Maine’s congressional districts — rather than statewide under current law.

The idea was floated two years ago by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which helped turn back 2015 and 2016 referendums that would have banned methods of bear hunting and instituted universal gun background checks, respectively. However, it fell just four votes short of going to voters in 2016 because of opposition from Democrats in the House.

David Trahan, the alliance’s executive director, said on Wednesday that he thought Democrats opposed the bill then because they didn’t want conservative voters coming out in droves in a presidential election. But he sees a better chance for passage this time.

“I think there’s not as much angst in putting that on the ballot in a non-election year,” he said.

Luchini said there’s “bipartisan support around reforms.” His committee is holding Wednesday work sessions on several referendum bills, including eight proposed constitutional amendments. Keep your eyes peeled for a new campaign to change campaigns. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Susan Collins has been named the most bipartisan U.S. senator for the fourth straight year. The moderate Republican again got the honor from the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s public policy school. Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, the head of the center, said in a statement that Collins “continues to set the gold standard for bipartisan productivity.” — Michael Shepherd
  • The Real ID compliance bill is on LePage’s desk. LD 306, which puts Maine on a path to meeting federal identification parameters that were enacted because of homeland security concerns, passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday and is under consideration by Gov. Paul LePage. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, eliminates a number of exemptions that allow certain license and identification card holders to re-acquire the cards. The bill also allows the secretary of state’s office to implement some forms of security technology such as retinal scanning, facial recognition and fingerprint technology. The bill, which LePage urged the Legislature to enact quickly, allocates nearly $1.2 million between now and 2019 for implementation. LePage has 10 days to decide what to do with the bill. — Christopher Cousins
  • The House sustained a LePage veto of a bill that would have inserted the Legislature into the federal compliance rulemaking process. LD 23 would have repealed a current law that waives legislative review and approval of new state department rules that must be adopted to comply with federal law or qualify for federal funds. In his veto letter, which has not been posted to his website, LePage argued that the current process of negotiations between the executive branch and the federal government works well and that Maine’s part-time Legislature would be unable to keep up with rule changes. The veto was sustained on an almost totally party-line vote with only one Democrat and one Republican voting with the other party. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out today. Here are some of the highlights from the committee schedule.

  • The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hear testimony on a bill that would prohibit the privatization of state-run correctional facilities and forensic psychiatric hospitals. This proposal comes as the LePage administration is moving forward with the creation of a privately run forensic psychiatric hospital in Bangor, which he is on track to build without legislative approval. The committee is also being presented a bill that would create a drug trafficking offender registration and notification program modeled after the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act of 2013. Anyone convicted of certain drug offenses after October of this year would be in the system.
  • The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, in addition to the citizen petition bills, will consider recommendations on bills that would affect campaign finance filings, including a proposal to eliminate the 24-hour reporting requirement in the days leading up to an election. Another interesting bill would require the correction of false information distributed in a campaign.
  • The Taxation Committee will deliberate on a number of tax-cutting proposals, including one that would exempt certain people over 70 years old from the income tax, eliminating the income tax on state employee pensions, providing relief to people with disabilities on their property taxes, among other proposals. This afternoon, the committee will be introduced to bills that would eliminate or curtail the personal property tax. The committee expects a crowd on those latter bills and has set up an overflow room for participants.
  • The Health and Human Services Committee will debate a number of bills related to prescription medications, including some that would roll back portions of a bill enacted last year that put new restrictions on how much opioid medication can be prescribed to an individual. This afternoon, the committee could take a vote on a bill that would restore public health nursing services in Maine which was spurred by reporting by the Bangor Daily News.
  • The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold more work sessions on the bevy of large-scale mining bills that have been under debate for weeks and the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will be introduced to three bills that seek to expand broadband internet access in Maine.
  • The education committee will hold a public hearing on a bill from Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, that would direct the Maine Department of Education to adopt standards for financial literacy education in Maine schools. Pouliot passed a bill in 2013 to require teaching on personal finance in schools.

There are dozens of other bills on today’s docket. Check out the full list by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins with Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Not a hick, but a redneck? A Waterville farmer who is “not a hick by any means” but is “a little red neck at time but hey we live in Maine” is looking for a female friend and suggests that they could “plant a garden,” “smoke some pot” and “dance all crazy to some good tunes.”
  • They don’t. A “bored” man who lists his location as “ur mind” wonders if “any intelligent woman care to muse about the seduction game.”
  • That is indeed better, given the binary choice. “I love ice with wine,” says somebody. “Better than a daiquiri with laxative.” True. Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.