Maine’s House of Representatives approved a bill (83-56) that will increase security arrangements at the State House complex just moments after they killed several bills that would have increased security at Maine’s public schools.
Late Tuesday night, the House of Representatives devolved into a caustic debate, as Republicans lampooned the idea of adding security for politicians, lobbyists, and state workers after blocking security for school children.
“The bill before us proposes to protect us in the Burton M. Cross Building by putting in screening and security, yet, just moments ago, we voted not to protect our children by allowing armed guards in schools,” said Rep. Randall Greenwood (R-Wales).
“I’m just saddened that we’re at a point where we feel we need armed guard protection, which we have and I’m thankful we do,” said Rep. Greenwood. “But we can’t extend that same courtesy to our children.”
Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield) called the House’s treatment of the security proposals “hypocritical,” while Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) said anyone who voted for increased State House security after opposing public school safety was effectively prioritizing their own life over the lives of school children.
Earlier in the week, Rep. Andrews’ bill to allow school districts to hire armed guards got the thumbs down from both the House and the Senate.
“Anybody voting for this is basically saying that their safety is more important than our school children’s,” said Rep. Andrews.
At that point, some shouting erupted and Talbot Ross chastised Andrews for impugning the character of other lawmakers, though he rebutted that by saying he was just stating facts. More shouting ensued.
The bill under consideration was LD 1100, a proposal from Rep. Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) that would install new security precautions in the Burton M. Cross Office Building, a building located next to the State House where several legislative committees meet.
“It isn’t just a place where we have committee rooms,” said Rep. Stover. “It is also a place where state employees work. On the upper floors. There are lots of departments and lots of employees, yet there is no security screening.”
The office building houses several government agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, and the Department of Education.
Under the new rule, visitors to the Cross building would have to undergo security screening by Capitol Police officers, similar to the screening that is currently limited to the State House entrance.
Rep. Joseph Underwood (R-Presque Isle) said he also had concerns about limiting citizens access to government offices.
The bill also requires the Director of Public Safety to limit the number of entrances to the building.
Lawmakers, state employees, and registered lobbyists will still have easy access to the building using their swipe card.
The proposal will cost roughly $630,000 per year, according to the fiscal note for the bill.
Rep. James Thorne (R-Carmel) asked the seemingly relevant question of whether there had been any security incidents at Cross to prompt the bill.
Rep. Tiffany Roberts (D-South Berwick) replied that, in a previous legislature, she had to inform Capitol Police that she suspected a critic in the committee room was carrying a concealed firearm, despite the “gun free zone” stickers of the Cross entrance doors.
“He did in fact have a weapon on him despite the, um, sign on the door. So, didn’t work,” Rep. Roberts said.