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Bill Proposes to Shrink Maine Legislature
02/12/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Independent state Rep. Joe Brooks of Winterport says he intends to honor his campaign promises, and one of those was made to his opponent in last year's election. Brooks agreed to submit a bill for his rival that would reduce the size of the Legislature through a constitutional amendment. As A.J. Higgins reports, the bill has been submitted to the Legislature's Committee on State and Local Government, where members of the panel say they're intrigued by the idea.

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Independent state Rep. Joe Brooks of Winterport has never been one to agree with those who say size doesn't matter. And he likes the idea of a smaller, more nimble and less expensive state Legislature.

"If we're going to economize throughout the whole state and ask the taxpayers to come up with more money, let's look at this, let's look at ourselves and see if we can save a nickel or a time." Brooks says. "Efficiencies can come everywhere in government, not just the state employees.""

In Brook's proposed legislation, both houses of the Maine Legislature would have to agree to downsize. The House would decrease from 151 members to 101 and the Senate would drop from the current 35 members to just 25.

Brooks told members of the Legislature's State and Local Government Committee that he has not conducted any studies of how much more efficient or economical the Legislature could become under his bill -- if it were ultimately approved by the Legislature and the voters - but he thinks it's time to find out.

"I have not come across any studies that show whether it was more efficient economically, or whether it was more proficient in trying to get to the voters -- I couldn't find anything," Brooks says. "I would think that if we were going to do this that we would want to have some kind of study set forth so you would be able to determine that."

But the idea of a smaller Maine Legislature is not a new one. It's been advanced on numerous occasions during the last 20 years. Two years ago, state Rep.. Linda Valentino, now a state senator from Saco, sought to win approval for her bill that would have changed Maine's Legislature to a unicameral body with single House of Representatives.

Under Valentino's bill, Mainers would keep their 151-member House of Representatives, but be asked to vote on eliminating the 35-member state Senate. She said the change would save $11 million and result in a more efficient legislative process. The bill passed in the House and, not surprisingly, died in the Senate.

But state Rep. Jethro Pease, a Republican from Morrill, says that doesn't mean lawmakers should reject the idea of a smaller Legislature, and he's supporting Brooks' legislation.

"I see efficiencies," Pease says. "Yes, we'll save our salaries, a few of us, by eliminating us and that's OK - that's not a big amount. And I don't mean to put down the people that work for the Legislature, but if a legislature is smaller, the amount of staff that is needed here could also be smaller."

Brook's bill will likely have company, since committee House Chair Anne Graham, a Democrat from North Yarmouth, says there are other bills in the legislative pipeline that also address the issue of reducing the size of the House, Senate or both. She says her committee is interested in discussing a well-thought-out proposal.

"There is some rationale for changing the size of the Legislature, but we need to be smart about it as opposed to randomly picking a number and not really having any data around what that would mean, and what type of representation people would have," Graham says.

A work session on the bill to reduce the size of the Legislature has been scheduled for Feb. 20.



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