Go. Janet Mills (D) and Maine State Attorney General Aaron Frey announced Monday that they will work with the Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy, the government committee investigating the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston, to secure them subpoena power.
This announcement came the same day that the Commission announced its request for the administration to secure them the power to issue subpoenas during the course of their investigation.
Established by Gov. Mills via an executive order on November 9, 2023, the Commission was charged with the responsibility of determining “the facts surrounding the tragedy in Lewiston on October 25th, including relevant facts and circumstances leading up to it and the police response to it.”
They are also directed to investigate the shooter’s mental health history and access to firearms, as well as any contact he had with State, Federal, or military authorities.
In a joint letter sent to the Commission by Gov. Mills and Attorney General Frey, they expressed a willingness to work with Commission members to secure the powers necessary for them to complete their work effectively.
Earlier this week, the Commission met publicly for the first time since its formation.
In addition to introducing their initial staff and setting expectations for their work over the next few months, members voted unanimously to request that the Governor and Attorney General pursue the necessary steps to secure them subpoena power.
“As we pledged when we established the Independent Commission,” Mills and Frey wrote in their press release, “we will do all we can to ensure the Commission has the resources and powers it needs to discharge its fact-finding responsibilities fully and properly.”
“To that end, we support the Independent Commission’s request, and our offices will immediately begin consulting with the Independent Commission and legislative leadership to prepare legislation granting the Commission the power of subpoena, with the goal of having that legislation prepared for the Legislature’s consideration at the beginning of the next session,” they wrote.
It was noted by members of the Commission during their meeting earlier this week that while they anticipate many will be willing to cooperate with their efforts, subpoena power will likely be necessary to obtain access to certain records that would otherwise be off limits to them.
They also suggested that having subpoena powers would make it easier for certain individuals to go the distance and comply with the Commission’s requests for information.
Mills’ decision to form the Commission via executive order — as opposed to allowing the Legislature to do so when it reconvenes early next year — has been a point of criticism for some.
By establishing the Commission in this manner, Mills essentially prevented lawmakers from having a say in its composition or duties while simultaneously guaranteeing their involvement in order to equip the Commission with the necessary capabilities.
On Monday, Rep. Adam Lee (D-Auburn) posted about this controversy on X.
“The Commission needs legislation to provide it subpoena power,” Rep. Lee wrote.
“Perhaps it would have made sense for the Governor’s office to work with the legislature to establish a broad and robust commission with meaningful authorities and power in the first place,” Lee said.
The Commission needs legislation to provide it subpoena power. Perhaps it would have made sense for the Governor’s office to work with the legislature to establish a broad and robust commission with meaningful authorities and power in the first place. https://t.co/fsm4dvx8OB— Rep. Adam R. Lee (@AdamRLee2) November 20, 2023
Jacob Posik — Director of Legislative Affairs at the Maine Policy Institute — expressed similar concerns with the formation of this Commission.
“I think its really a shame that the governor went in this direction and ultimately just decided to go it alone and not seek outside assistance from anybody, really,” Posik said.
“I think that lawmakers deserve to have input in these matters,” he continued. “They’re the ones who represent the people, not former judges, former, you know, lawyers, forensic psychologists, the other people who make up that committee.”
“And if you look at the people on the Commission, they are, you know, important people with past notable titles, but not having a citizen legislator or law enforcement component I think is a big downfall here,” Posik said.
“I think the governor does ultimately, you know, seek out truth,” he stated. “But unfortunately, I feel like the makeup of the Commission is sort of closed minded in its scope as a whole.”
The Commission has also drawn criticism for Mills’ decision to exempt its activities from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, a government transparency law.
Although a spokesperson for the Commission has said that the Commission will be subject to FOAA after it publishes its findings, that will only be true if Mills’ rescinds her executive order exempting it from FOAA.
She has not said publicly whether she intends to rescind the exemption.
Here is everything that went wrong with Governor Mills' independent commission to investigate the Lewiston shooting: pic.twitter.com/r3HHBQIOt7— Maine Policy Institute (@MainePolicy) November 13, 2023
The conversations burgeoning around legislative involvement — or lack thereof — with this Commission are reminiscent of those which have been occurring with relation to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection’s (Maine BEP’s) recent regulatory changes concerning the mandated increase in sales of zero-emissions vehicles.
Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) recently proposed a bill that would have strengthened the legislature’s ability to oversee these rule changes, but the proposal was twice shot down by the Legislative Council before it had the opportunity to be debated by the full body of lawmakers.
The concerns raised Rep. Morris and others with relation to the Maine BEP’s push to make substantive policy changes through routine regulatory channels at the exclusion of elected representatives appear to be echoed in the critiques of Mills’ decision to single-handedly formulate the Commission to study the Lewiston shooting via an executive order.
During the public comment portion of yesterday’s Commission meeting, Rep. Suzanne M. Salisbury (D-Westbrook) — Chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety and the Committee on Ethics — took the opportunity to share her input with members of the Commission.
Rep. Salisbury expressed concerns over the lack of direct law enforcement representation and involvement on the Commission, stating her hope that the Maine law enforcement community “can be used as the experts they are” as the Commission investigates the Lewiston tragedy.
The Commission is expected to meet again publicly on December 14. Additional details concerning the time and place will be announced once they are available.
Disclosure — The Maine Wire is a project of the Maine Policy Institute.