The House of Representatives on April 5 failed to pass a bill that would have created a ballot question asking voters to amend the Maine Constitution to include a right to a healthy environment.
The chamber voted 77 to 59 in favor of passing LD 489, falling short of the two-thirds majority threshold required to pass amendments to the state constitution. It will still be voted on by the Senate, but without a two-thirds vote in both chambers, the bill will die in the legislature.
LD 489 would have added the following language to Article I, Section 25 of the state constitution:
“The people of the State have the right to a clean and healthy environment and to the preservation of the natural, cultural and healthful qualities of the environment. The State may not infringe upon these rights. The State shall conserve, protect and maintain the State’s natural resources, including, but not limited to, its air, water, land and ecosystems for the benefit of all the people, including generations yet to come.”
The bill had been on unfinished business in the House but was taken up for final passage during the chamber’s April 5 session. Before voting, the House debated the bill with support for its passage largely falling along party lines.
Rep. William Pluecker (I-Warren) said the bill is a “guarantee of our right to hold the government accountable.” He added that the right to a clean and healthy environment belongs with rights already outlined in the constitution.
Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco) also spoke in support of the bill, saying it would fill in gaps that exist in the state’s environmental laws.
Reps. Mike Perkins (R-Oakland) and Sherm Hutchins (R-Penobscot) spoke in opposition to the bill and both expressed concerns about how the vagueness of the proposed language could be used to stop the construction of public works projects.
“It is so broad that anybody can come up and say that bike path that we’re building is affecting the clean water, that road that we’re building is affecting the air. This is way too broad. I would ask the people, please, let’s go back and rewrite this,” Perkins said.
The House also passed a joint resolution expressing support for the people of Ukraine, which was supported by all but two members. The resolve recognized the “democratic values shared by the people of Maine and the people of Ukraine,” condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and encouraged Maine residents to support Ukrainian-Americans and the people of Ukraine. If the resolution is adopted by the Senate, it will be sent to President Joe Biden and to members of Maine’s congressional delegation.
Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) rose to speak in opposition to the resolution. Andrews said he supported the Ukrainians and condemned Russia’s invasion, but could not support language in the resolution referencing the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which was signed by the United States, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom in 1994. Signatories of the memorandum pledged to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders and refrain from using threats against it.
Andrews said he worried the resolution would add to calls for the U.S. to become more involved in the war.
“American escalation is not the answer. Those in this chamber must listen carefully to hear the drums of war that are beginning to beat slowly on our shores. We as a legislative body must not join the band and America must not listen to the siren call of yet another foreign entanglement that will only benefit the military industrial complex,” Andrews said.
Andrews further objected to sanctions Biden has placed against Russia, which he said are referenced in the resolution and “only hurt poor people and have widespread and disruptive ripple effects in the global marketplace.” Andrews also called for an increase in domestic oil production. In March, Andrews sponsored a resolution urging the Biden administration to increase domestic energy production, which was not approved for circulation by the presiding officers of the Maine Legislature.
Both chambers of the legislature also voted on April 5 to recall LD 1129 from Gov. Janet Mills’ desk. The bill, which sought to prevent retail stores from being able to use old, abandoned properties to influence the valuation of currently occupied commercial property, was finally passed by the Senate on March 29. The House voted to finally pass the bill on March 24.
The Senate also voted to pass a motion to recall LD 1758 from the governor’s desk. The motion to recall the bill, which stipulates that licensed mental health and substance use disorder treatment facilities can obtain consent through formats other than written during a federal or state public health emergency, was first passed in the House on March 31.
The Senate also finally passed to be enacted LD 859, which allows municipalities to use ranked-choice voting in local elections. The bill will now head to the governor’s desk.