Bill titles shed some light

The Maine Legislature opened at a brisk pace. We have the text of more than 100 bills and a long list of titles, but those do not always give insight into the issues being raised.

At least Maine has not taken up the tortured acronyms of Congress when it comes to naming bills. The TALENT Act of 2016 (Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent) is one example of an attempt to develop a catchy label.

Augusta – don’t do that.

Mostly, Maine bills are named in a straightforward attempt to reflect their content, though there are names so broad that they are meaningless. Because Maine has a requirement that all aspects of a bill must be germane to the title, a broad title lets a sponsor poke in a lot of content.

An Act to Repeal the Law Regulating Reflective and Tinted Glass in Automobiles is pretty clear about its intention. You will not find a provision about apple cider production in there. An Act to Protect Maine’s Forest Rangers is broader. Protect how?

In this case, it prohibits the prohibition—Got that?—on forest rangers carrying a concealed firearm while on duty. It doesn’t so much protect the ranger as let the ranger protect himself.

There is An Act to Assist Residents of Nursing Homes to Return to Their Communities. Does it provide maps? Transportation? Nope. It provides funding to allow those in need of nursing home services to “transition to services in the community.”

LD 30 is An Act Regarding Dancing on the Premises of Certain Liquor Licensees. Does it permit dancing? Forbid it? What sort of dancing? With whom? From the title, it’s anyone’s guess.

A look at the language of the bill reveals that at “an establishment licensed to sell liquor for consumption on the premises,” dancing should be allowed “when in conjunction with the singing of a song, the lyrics of which are displayed on a screen … commonly known as ‘karaoke.’” So if you’re dancing, chummy, you’d better be singing.

If it is up to Sen. Eric Brakey, if you care to import a hedgehog or to possess one, you will no longer need a permit from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The treasurer of Maine will no longer have to be a member of the Maine Vaccine Board.

There will be a “caution light” and a large sign indicating when you are entering New Sweden. Just kidding about the sign, but there will be a caution light in New Sweden. Because of the hedgehogs, maybe.

The Department of Transportation also will be directed to put up a sign on Interstate 95 directing motorists to Lincoln. Attention all motorists. Get thee to Lincoln. Now.

Gov. Paul LePage has promised to resume his “town hall” gatherings and further offered to attend legislative committee meetings to provide a better understanding of some of his policy positions.

His first shot at this did not go well, when he showed up unannounced at an Appropriations Committee meeting in 2013 and was not permitted to speak. This time, he is giving appropriators and the Health and Human Services Committee fair warning that he would like to “personally explain … why I believe Bangor is a better location than Augusta” for a forensic mental health unit.

Unable to resist turning a good-faith offer into a brickbat, the governor added this caveat: “I ask that you refrain from asking questions that you already know the answer to … I have no interest in participating in the usual dog-and-pony show that the Legislature likes to put on for the media and the lobbyists.” So now they really want him to come, right?

There are fundamental problems with a governor appearing at a legislative hearing. In this case, who will be the judge of whether the committee “already knows the answer” to the questions it asks? And will the governor run screaming from the room if his caution is ignored?

With the best of intentions, a gubernatorial appearance at a legislative committee creates procedural difficulties. A governor is normally extended certain courtesies at a public appearance, like speaking first and at whatever length he desires.

Questions from the committee are likely to be numerous, and citizens who have driven long distances to participate will find themselves sitting on the sidelines through lengthy discussions between the governor and the committee, unless the governor declines to take any questions. That would reclassify the governor’s appearance as a speech.

Hearings can be rough and tumble between the branches of government. It is not appropriate for the governor himself to participate. As chief executive, a governor has many other opportunities to make his positions known. His cabinet members and their staffs are his designees, and it is their role to carry his flag into committee proceedings and absorb any slings and arrows.

His presence at a hearing would do little to advance the chances of a successful legislative session. Render unto the legislature the things which are the legislature’s. The chief executive should not be among them.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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