National Football League wide receiver Irving Fryar came out of a rookie orientation with the following advice to his colleagues: “We’re going to have some idiots come out of this room. Those of you feeling good about yourselves, stop it. You ain’t did nothing yet.”
Legislators should heed his words. Despite the thrill of winning an election, the swearing-in ceremony and taking your very own seat in an historic chamber, it is easy to forget you have yet to do any of the work you promised when you ran for office.
New legislators have a lot to learn. They are petitioned by constituents who want legislation introduced. They may be asked to revive bills the previous occupant of the seat left undone. There are bills they have been pondering since they first decided to run. Now’s their chance.
Some legislators believe they are obligated to introduce any bill requested by a constituent. As their experience mounts, they may become more selective. It is highly unlikely a legislator can give due diligence to 80 bills, though the legendary Senator Peter Mills came close.
A legislator who does not believe in the bill she is sponsoring will not be a good advocate. She will dutifully introduce it when the time comes but otherwise will not shepherd the bill through the lengthy process required before it becomes law. This is a waste of everyone’s time.
There is a work-around for this, and that is to have the bill marked “By Request.” The phrase appears right on the cover of the bill and is legislative-speak for “I don’t give a flying you-know-what” about the outcome. It is the signal that legislative friends and caucus-mates can vote against it and no hard feelings will ensue.
At the other end of the spectrum are legislators passionately committed to a particular issue. School funding. Access to health care. Highway safety. They will submit bills focused on these policies alone, conserving their energy for a full-court press without the distraction of having to run around tracking other bills for which, by virtue of sponsoring, they are responsible.
Some bills are lost causes from the get-go, but still they find sponsors. Some bills propose changes in the biggest policy issues of the day. There are always multiple legislators interested in these and working together to get them passed—or defeated.
There are bill titles that cover a lot of territory, such as “An Act to Amend the Tax Laws,” or “An Act to Make Necessary Changes to State Law.” Whoa. That one could be huge.
Then there are the bills that, because of bizarre subject matter or narrow scope, become the poster children for weird legislation. Of the over 1,600 bills submitted for this session, only 119 have been drafted and printed, so we have titles-only for most. But what speculation some of these titles invite!
There is a title about nuisance beavers. Would that be a dam-building beaver flooding land, or a beaver gnawing on a tree beneath your bedroom window? Another bill title references nuisance deer. From an animal point of view, we’re the bigger nuisance. What if the beavers and deer gang up on us?
There is a title proposing to “reduce from 8 weeks to 6 weeks the age at which a rabbit may be sold.” Who knew there was a law specifying when a rabbit is of marketable age? Watch for rabbit mothers with little protest signs.
There is an act to legalize lemonade stand sales by minors. A resolution recognizing May 1, 2021, as “purebred dog day.” (Shouldn’t every dog have his day?) There is a resolve “to Name a Mountain in Oxford County,” but what name? Perhaps there will be a “name that mountain” contest.
One legislator has sponsored a bill to “recognize “My Sweet Maine” as Maine’s song of the 21st century.” We already have a song for all the other centuries. No, not the Maine Stein Song; it is “State of Maine,” adopted in 1937 and currently unknown to one and all. We also have an official ballad, distinct from the official song: “The Ballad of the 20th Maine.”
The Oscar for Most Intriguing surely goes to “An Act to Prohibit Legislators from Legislating While Intoxicated.” Friends don’t let friends legislate drunk. This would explain the guy in the back row of the chamber belting out “My Sweet Maine.” Seriously, is this a frequent problem? That’s alarming.
Though nothing like a session record, there is a prodigious pile of bills facing the 130th Legislature. Submitting them for consideration is the least of it. Legislators, you may have put down markers on policy changes, but as Irving Fryar said, those of you feeling good about yourselves, stop it. You ain’t did nothing yet.
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.