Democratic lawmakers attempted to pass off a definition of “racial profiling” from the left-wing ACLU of Maine as though it were language approved and provided by the Maine State Police, the Maine Wire has learned.
The proposed amendment to House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ bill — LD 1613, “An Act to Prohibit Profiling and to Strengthen Civil Rights in Maine” — uses a definition of “racial profiling” that is identical to one proposed by the left-wing advocacy group.
However, during a committee hearing, the language was presented in such a misleading way that an official from the Maine State Police (MSP) emailed committee staff to set the record straight, according to records obtained by the Maine Wire.
A State Police official who was listening remotely to the hearing on LD 1613 emailed State House staff to clarify that the language came, by way of California, from an ACLU of Maine staffer.
Contrary to how the amendment was represented at the hearing, the new language was not supported or agreed to by MSP at the time.
“The definition of profiling in this amendment is not the one I provided to the Speaker’s Office,” said Lt. Col. Brian Scott, media spokesperson for MSP in an email to Judiciary Committee Clerk Susan Pinette.
“This one was provided by the ACLU… We have not had the time to properly vet this new amendment as we only received it yesterday,” he said.
Scott says that the new definition came from Megan Sway, Policy Director at the ACLU of Maine.
In an April 26 public hearing on LD 1613, Speaker Talbot Ross presented an amendment to the definition of “racial profiling” in her bill that incorporated some of the changes suggested by the MSP in Lt. Col. Scott’s testimony.
Below are the changes to the definition that Scott suggested in his public hearing testimony:
Here is the amendment that the Speaker present to the Judiciary Committee on April 26, which takes two of the suggestions Scott provided, but leaves in “to any degree”:
However, at the June 7 work session on LD 1613 Speaker Talbot Ross presented a different definition in her amendment, one provided by the ACLU taken from California state law that MSP did not provide or support.
Below is an excerpt from the June 7 amendment, where the initial definition from April 26 is crossed out and replaced by the ACLU definition:
Despite striking MSP’s contribution to the racial profiling language from the bill, Talbot Ross, in her remarks to the committee, made it seem like the new, much broader definition had the backing of the state police.
“I would just love for the committee to know that we hear you when we presented the bill, and have been working with Lt. Col. Bruce Scott [sic], I’ve been working with the Attorney General’s office to bring this amendment to you today,” Talbot Ross said on Wednesday.
“We all agreed to revise the definition of profiling, so we’re all in agreement around that,” she said.
“It took us a while to reach agreement on this definition, so I just want to make that clear that this was not done hastily,” she added, despite the fact that Lt. Col. Scott said that they were only provided with this ACLU definition the day before Wednesday’s work session and that they did not sign off on it.
Talbot Ross did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether or not she intentionally gave a false impression to the Judiciary Committee regarding the MPS’ position on the amendment.
“It was just a blanket lie that they were on board with this, when to my knowledge now that they’ve seen the amendment I don’t believe any law enforcement association is on board with this amendment,” Rep. Jennifer Poirier (R-Skowhegan) said in a phone interview Friday.
Rep. Poirier said that since Wednesday’s work session she spoke with Sheriff Dale Lancaster of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, and that he had not seen the amendment either.
Poirier said that although the MSP and Talbot Ross had been working together on the racial profiling definition prior to the work session, the Speaker opted to go with a definition the ACLU put forward in one of their meetings rather than the one that the MSP agreed to.
The difference between the two amendments may seem small, but from a law enforcement perspective, the implications are potentially vast.
“My major concern is there is a provision in that amendment that states that under the Human Rights Act a police officer or the municipality that they work for can be sued, and to me that is taking away qualified immunity,” she said.
Qualified immunity is an established legal principle that grants government employees, such as law enforcement officers, immunity from most civil suits for actions taken in an official capacity.
The broader definition of racial profiling in the latest version of the bill would create a lower threshold for police officers to be sued for racial discrimination if an arrestee later claimed they had been discriminated against on the basis of a protected category, like race, gender identity, national origin, religion, or ethnicity.
Poirier said other states that have similarly made it easier to sue police officers have seen increases in crime and weakened police forces.
“If you look at other states that have actually implemented things such as this, they’re finding that crime is going way up, police are leaving the force, and they’re actually just not able to do their job now out of fear that anything [they] do someone could perceive as wrong,” Poirier said.
Below is a full copy of the June 7 amendment to LD 1613 obtained by the Main Wire: