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Legislature launches pilot program to assess racial impact of pending legislation

In March 2021, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law requiring the Legislative Council to study the best method to create a system for attaching racial impact statements to legislation. LD 2 requires state agencies to provide data related to a piece of legislation’s racial impact to a legislative committee upon request. 

The law also tasks the Legislative Council with performing a study to determine how to create a system of using racial impact statements for legislation, defined as “an assessment of the potential impact that legislation could have on historically disadvantaged racial populations.”

The Legislative Council was required to implement a pilot project for use in the 130th Legislature’s Second Session no later than December 1.

The joint standing committees involved in the pilot project are required to report the number of pieces and types of legislation for which racial impact statements were used, the way in which they were developed, the amount of time needed to develop them and the costs of their development.

The Legislative Council is also required to decide whether to expand or eliminate the use of racial impacts statements and make a recommendation to the 131st Legislature no later than December 15, 2022.

The fiscal note attached to LD 2 indicates the cost associated with the study is expected to be $5,250 in fiscal year 2021-2022. The proposed budget for fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 includes $10,000 per year for costs associated with legislative studies, as well as a carryover amount from previous years of $21,260.

Whether the funds are enough to cover the cost of racial impact studies depends on the number of authorized studies. According to the fiscal note attached to LD 2, additional staffing costs associated with the studies can be paid for with “existing budgeted staff resources.”

The Legislative Council Subcommittee to Implement a Racial Impact Statement Process Pilot held the final meeting associated with its study on December 10. 

The subcommittee has not yet submitted a final report, but a draft proposal discussed at the subcommittee’s final meeting establishes a process for attaching a racial impact statement to some legislation.

Bills under consideration for inclusion in the pilot program were to be nominated for consideration by the subcommittee no later than December 1. A research team, composed of volunteers from the University of Maine System (UMS) and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations, will review the proposed bills and report which are most “impactful and feasible” to the subcommittee.

The subcommittee will provide racial impact statements to the appropriate legislative committees before the end of February 2022.

The subcommittee reached out to UMS and the permanent commission to explore how they could take part in the pilot program. Both groups agreed to take part in the program and to use their own resources to do so. This means the state will not pay for the costs associated with research conducted by UMS and the permanent commission. 

According to the draft plan put forward by the subcommittee, the pilot program will focus on carry-over bills from the Education, Labor and Housing, Health and Human Services and Judiciary committees. 

The subcommittee worked with UMS and the permanent commission to identify specific bills to be included in the pilot program and identified seven pieces of legislation, though restraints on resources may mean not all will include a complete statement.

Included in this list are LD 270, which requires the Commissioner of Education not to make a regional adjustment to the allocation of state funds received by a school administrative unit that decreases allocations for teachers for other school-level staff salary costs, and LD 372, which makes changes to CubCare, Maine’s health care program for children.

Other bills included in the list are LD 1574 and LD 1693, two bills that deal with health equity and support for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

LD 982, which would prevent discrimination of public entities against protected class, and LD 965, which prohibits employers from requiring employees to waive rights to report discrimination, are also included in the list.

Either LD 598, which would amend the Maine Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against hair texture in the classroom and the workaplce,  or LD 1068, which would allow a court to direct a defendant not to possess a firearm, will also be included in the pilot program.

While studying the legislation included for inclusion in the pilot program, researchers will respond to a five-question framework: 

• What problem is this policy/legislation addressing?
• Is the problem worse or exacerbated for people of color?
• What factors contribute to or compound racial inequities around this problem?
• More specifically, what policies, institutions, or actors have shaped these inequalities, disparities, and/or disparate impacts?
• What actors, at what levels of influence, could reduce these inequities? 

Both qualitative and quantitative data will be used to draw conclusions for the racial impact studies.

The relevant subcommittee will also consider what types of bills should be pilots, which bills the subcommittee should recommend and their preference for whether to analyze the quality or quantity of bills in the pilot program.

The research team will also consider the availability of data and information, what data collection processes are needed to answer the framework questions and the feasibility of answering the questions within the established timeframe.