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Maine House Rejects LePage Proposal to Shield Working Papers
04/05/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

It took all of 15 minutes for members of the Maine House to soundly reject a bill that would exempt the governor's working papers from the state's Freedom of Access law. The bill faces further action, but the two-to-one margin of defeat does not bode well for the chief executive's proposal.

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Supporters of the bill to temporarily shield legislative and budget proposals from the governor and members of his staff from the Freedom of Access law say it's all about fairness. They point out that members of the Legislature already have the privilege. Why shouldn't the chief executive?

And, says Democratic Rep. Charles Priest of Brunswick, Maine would not be alone in granting such an exemption. "Well, in fact, Massachusetts does it, Vermont does it, Connecticut does it, Virginia does it, Hawaii does it, Illinois does it, New Jersey does it, South Dakota does it, Tennessee does it, Texas does it and Utah does it," he says. "I am convinced the exemption is justified. Again, it's no more than what we have."

But Democratic Rep. Maeghan Maloney of Augusta says that's not entirely correct. She says there are 151 members in the Maine House and only one chief executive. "We don't have the power of the chief executive. We don't have the staff of the chief executive and so it's a completely different thing that we're looking at."

In addition, the bill would exempt some members of the governor's staff from FOAA, at least until the end of the legislative session. They include the governor's chief of staff, legal counsel, director of policy and employees under their direct supervision.

Maloney says that's too broad and vague. It also concerns her that multiple groups oppose the policy change, including Maine's Freedom of Information Coalition. In fact, only one person testified in favor of the bill and it was a member of the governor's staff.

Maloney and others also question why the bill is needed, since previous governors--Independents, Democrats and Republicans--have never suggested that complying with the existing law is a problem.

"Much of what we do here is about power. It's about power and it's about secrecy. Power is always advancing. It never contracts," said Rep. Lance Harvell, a Republican from Farmington. "When you go to vote for this, remember this is only a bill that Richard Nixon could have loved and I urge you to vote No!"

A recent study of government transparency and accountablility among the 50 states gave Maine an "F" and ranked it 46th in the country for its policies to prevent corruption.

Democratic Rep. Kim Monaghan-Derrig told her colleagues LD 1805 would only move Maine in the wrong direction. And she reminded them of the chief executive's own commitment to open government, saying at one point he would be "so open that you would be amazed."

Lawmakers defeated the measure by a vote of 98-47. It awaits further action in both the House the Senate.


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