The three citizen initiatives approved by voters in November of 2023 officially went into effect last Friday, all of which were approved by a fairly substantial portion of Mainers at the ballot box.
In Maine — under Article IV, Part Third, Section 18 of the Maine Constitution — voters are able to directly petition the Legislature to consider bills and resolutions, and unless passed by lawmakers “without change,” citizens are given the opportunity to decide on its fate at the polls.
When these bills go before the Legislature, they are referred to as initiated bills (IBs) and are assigned both an IB number and a legislative document (LD) number.
When initially presented to the Legislature, lawmakers handled each of these bills differently before ultimately passing them all onto voters to make the final call.
An Act Regarding Automotive Right to Repair (LD 1677)
LD 1677 — An Act Regarding Automotive Right to Repair — was never again acted upon by the Legislature after it was referred to the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement, and Business.
This bill, which went on to become Question 4 in the November election, required car manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems, as well as allow remote access to these systems and a car’s mechanical data for both owners and non-dealership repair facilities.
During the campaign season, generic parts manufacturers and independent repair shops came out in support of the measure, while members of the auto industry spoke against it.
The Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee was the leading campaign in support of Question 4 leading up to the election, while the primary opposition came from organizations like the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and the Maine Automobile Dealers Association.
Several other states have enacted right to repair laws in recent years, although provisions specifically related to the automotive right to repair are a relatively recent and rare phenomenon.
In 2020, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a similar vehicular right to repair law — a follow-up to earlier measures passed in 2012 and 2013 — which has since been held up in court.
As of 2022, Colorado enacted legislation aimed at securing the “right to repair” for wheelchairs.
This year, Colorado expanded its “right to repair” legislation to include agricultural equipment. New York and Minnesota also passed bills this year concerning the “right to repair” for electronic devices.
65.3 percent of voters ultimately approved this bill last November, causing the IB to go into effect on January 5.
An Act to Require Voter Approval of Certain Borrowing by Government-controlled Entities and Utilities and to Provide Voters More Information Regarding That Borrowing (LD 1772)
LD 1772 — An Act to Require Voter Approval of Certain Borrowing by Government-controlled Entities and Utilities and to Provide Voters More Information Regarding That Borrowing — was originally rejected by the Legislature as a result of the Committee on State and Local Government’s recommendation that the bill “ought not to pass.”
Consequently, the bill was placed on the November ballot for voters to make the final call.
Simply put, this bill requires electric utilities and other quasi-governmental entities (like the Maine Turnpike Authority) to obtain explicit voter approval before accruing more than $1 billion in debt.
That said, the law was essentially brought forward as a means by which to prevent the establishment of Pine Tree Power — a consumer-owned electric company that would have taken the place of the state’s current investor-owned energy providers, Central Maine Power (CMP) and Versant, had it been approved.
There had been an estimated $5 billion minimum price tag associated with the acquisition of Maine’s current power transmitters, meaning that this law would have required Pine Tree Power to once again get voters’ approval in order to move forward with its plans.
Mainers went on to approve the bill with 65.3 percent support at the polls, while simultaneously defeating the establishment of Pine Tree Power with just 30.6 percent approval.
It remains to be seen how frequently and in what circumstances this new provision is invoked against Maine’s electric utilities and other quasi-governmental entities.
An Act to Prohibit Campaign Spending by Foreign Governments and Promote an Anticorruption Amendment to the United States Constitution (LD 1610)
LD 1610 — An Act to Prohibit Campaign Spending by Foreign Governments and Promote an Anticorruption Amendment to the United States Constitution — had the most extensive legislative history of these three bills prior to its approval by voters.
This legislation prohibits foreign governments — as well as entities with at least 5 percent ownership by a foreign government — from campaigning either for or against both candidates and ballot questions.
The measure also requires the media to do their “due diligence” to determine whether or not the entity behind an advertisement is owned by a foreign government when making decisions about what to air or print.
Passed by both chambers of the Legislature in June, with a roll call vote of 19-13 in the Senate, Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed the bill on July 19, citing concerns that “the language
of the bill is too broad and would likely result in the unintended consequence of effectively silencing legitimate voices.”
Gov. Mills also took issue with the bill’s “attempts to regulate the activities of the press and other media outlets,” which she argued “runs afoul of the First Amendment and is counter to the longstanding tradition and cornerstone of a free press in America.”
The Legislature then held a vote considering the possibility of overturning Mills’ veto, an act that would have required support from two-thirds of those present in the chamber. With a roll call vote of 73-50 in the House, lawmakers came up short of the 82 votes necessary to override the governor’s veto.
Consequently, because the bill failed to pass into law, the measure came before Maine voters in November where they overwhelmingly approved it with 86.4 percent support.
Supporters of Question 2 argued during the campaign season that the measure would help ensure that Maine’s elections are centered around Maine’s needs and Maine’s people.
Opponents, on the other hand, made the case that it would prevent Maine companies with foreign investors from speaking out during election season. They also suggested that the law would place an undue burden on the media to determine who was eligible to advertise on election-related issues.
Several other states have also adopted similar laws prohibiting entities owned by foreign governments from contributing to state referendum campaigns.