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Fast Track for Maine Concealed Weapons Bill Raises Concerns
02/19/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Lawmakers took a series of quick votes today to approve a bill that will temporarily shield the identities of concealed weapons permit owners. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage after garnering more than two-thirds support in the House and Senate. Lawmakers still have time to consider whether to make the change permanent. And as A.J. Higgins reports, some lawmakers are objecting to today's fast-track process that allowed the bill to become law.

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It was a letter from a constituent that first prompted state Rep. Corey Wilson to question why the names of Mainers holding concealed weapons permits should be in the public domain.

The Augusta Republican had heard from a woman who had recently left an abusive marriage and had obtained a concealed weapons permit for self-defense. Wilson said the woman was concerned that if her weapons permit were known to her abuser, he'd get a gun too.

"She felt that her life would have been at risk had he known that this information existed," Wilson sai

That prompted Wilson to submit a bill that would shield the names of concealed weapons permit holders and exempt them from the current provisions of Maine's Freedom of Access Act.

News of the bill prompted the editors at the Bangor Daily News to use the Freedom of Access Act to get law enforcement agencies to provide a list of concealed weapons permit holders.. The Republican Party and Gov. Paul LePage immediately objected to the paper's request,a s did gun rights advocates, who protested at the paper's Bangor headquarters.

The paper subsequently rescinded its request for the list. But that didn't stop the uproar. The governor's bill that temporarily shields the identity of concealed weapons permit owners was supported by both parties and signed into law in just one day, a feat that impressed GOP Senate Leader Michael Thibodeau.

"Who could have imagined that our very first opportunity to have a roll call vote would result in a bill that was brought forward by the chief executive, sponsored by the majority party, and indeed, probably will receive unanimous support here in the Senate?" Thibodeau said.

The bill temporarily exempts concealed weapons permit holders from the Freedom of Access Act, and will shield their identities until at least April 30, when it is expected that the Legislature's Judiciary Committee will act on Wilson's bill to make those exemptions permanent.

Some lawmakers haven't made up their minds about what they think of the bill, but they didn't like the way the moratorium on the permits was handled.

"My only concern is that we have rushed through a bill that, even as of last night, people found constitutional problems with it, and found that it also barred police from having access to this," said Rep. Joe Brooks.

Brooks, an independent from Winterport, objects to the fact that the bill was signed into law without having a public hearing or assigned to a committee. His concerns about police access to the information were addressed by a Senate amendment to the bill.

But others also take issue with the bill. Rep. Brian Jones, a Freedom Democrat, says leaders on both sides of the aisle were using the controversy as a political football.

"This is not a Second Amendment issue, this is a Freedom of Access Act issue," Jones said. "And what we're asking this body to do is to suspend First Amendment rights of transparency in our government to solve a non-existent constitutional emergency."

Democratic leaders say the moratorium will provide a cooling down period to allow the Judiciary Committee to carefully consider all sides of the proposed change to the state's Freedom of Access Act.



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