AUGUSTA – State Democratic leaders have suspended a rule providing for transparency in the proceedings of the Legislature.
Senate President Justin L. Alfond (D-Cumberland) and Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) informed lawmakers in an email Wednesday that they are suspending the public notice requirement for advertising public hearings.
“Effective today, the notice requirement for advertising public hearings for bills that are referred to committee after May 3rd is waived entirely,” the Democratic leaders wrote in an email to state lawmakers.
Suspending the public notice requirement will make it difficult for Maine citizens to monitor the progress of bills in Augusta and attend public hearings to voice their concerns.
However, President Alfond and Speaker Eves believe doing so is necessary in order to allow the Legislature to cope with the enormous number of bills that have yet to be considered. They wrote:
“As you know, Friday, May 17th, is the deadline for voting all committee bills. As of Monday April 29th, committees had voted 50% of their anticipated bill load but had more than 700 bills in their possession that have not yet been voted, 260 bills voted but not yet reported out and additional bills are still expected to be referred. Although this represents a great deal of hard work by the committees so far this session, it is clear that there is still a significant amount of work remaining in committee. It is essential that you continue your efforts to meet the deadlines, so that we can complete the work of the Legislature on time and within budget.”
Republican lawmakers were troubled by Alfond and Eve’s decision to suspend State House transparency rules and blamed Democrats’ inability to manage legislative proceedings.
“This is symptomatic of some of the problems we’ve been seeing in committees,” said House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport).
Fredette was referring to recent incidents where Democratic committee chairs procedurally censored Republican Right-to-Work legislation, made a mockery of a public hearing by wearing clown noses, and brought bipartisan condemnation for heavy-handed conduct in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
“Add to that Democrats continuing to use the one big thing we all agree on, the hospital bill, as a bargaining chip and a lack of credible solutions coming from them on balancing the budget, and we’re bound to have a very rushed final two months of session,” Fredette said.
Assistant House Republican Leader Alexander Willette (R-Mapelton) said the Democrat’s decision does not bode well for the creation of sound public policy.
“Anytime you stop advertising public hearings, you’re hindering the public’s ability to weigh in on important issues and, as a result, hindering our ability to craft good public policy,” he said.