2017-10-19 / Editorial

Legislators called into special session by governor

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

Typically, the Maine State Legislature meets for the first half of the year, wrapping up business by June. Once the budget has been passed, we’re all done until the following January, except for occasional meetings to consider items like the governor’s appointees to boards and commissions.

This year has been exceptional, with difficult budget disagreements leading to an extended legislative session running until August. And with more work still to do, Gov. Paul LePage has called the legislature into special session this coming week. A special session is rare, but with all the important issues the legislature needs to address, I’m glad we’re doing it.

Here are some of the most prominent issues, and some pros and cons, as I see them.

First, Food Sovereignty. Food Sovereignty is a complex name for a simple concept: that cities and towns can pass ordinances related to food without being overruled by the state.

Typically, law from the state preempts ordinances from a municipality. A familiar example is plastic bag bans. Municipalities can pass ordinances banning the use plastic bags in grocery stores, but the state legislature, if it so desired, would have the authority to overrule a plastic bag ban, since state law is a higher authority than a municipal one.

However, in the case of Food Sovereignty, and specific to the sale of food on the farm directly to customers, the legislature has removed its own authority to overrule municipalities.

This would allow a town to pass an ordinance allowing the sale of farm produce, such as raw milk, meats and vegetables, directly to customers at the farm without requiring inspections.

It’s the way many small Maine farms already work. However, this is the first law of its kind in any state in the nation, and a concern has arisen, that due to a technicality, the new law would also prevent inspections of meat processing facilities.

We need to make sure to clarify things to fix this quirk, which seems like a noncontentious issue, but in the legislature, anything is possible!

Second, legislation to amend Maine’s Ranked Choice Voting law will most likely be on the agenda. This revolutionary voting system was enacted into law by referendum in last year’s election. It allows a voter to express not just their top choice, but also their second and third, for any state or federal political office with more than two candidates.

It has been argued that this new system tends to allow more moderate candidates to advance. And moderation is sorely needed in politics right now. However, critics have argued that the system may delay the vote tallying process, causing results to take a little longer, and may be confusing or timeconsuming for the voter. Some also argue the approach is unconstitutional under the Maine constitution, on the basis of obscure “plurality provisions,” although that will not be certain until and if a legal challenge arises. As it is stands today, Ranked Choice Voting will be in place for the next year’s June primaries and November elections.

At next week’s special session, the legislature will consider a constitutional change to clarify the plurality provisions. Approval of this change would eliminate any doubt about Ranked Choice Voting. Research from other places that have Ranked Choice Voting (including Portland, Maine, where it is used for mayoral races), suggest that voters find ranking candidates to be easy. It’s also the way the Fitzpatrick Trophy, Maine’s most prestigious high school football award, is tallied. But the issue is not simple and there are many viewpoints. I’d be very interested in your thoughts on this one.

Third, and last, is the retail sale of recreational marijuana and marijuana products.

While medical marijuana has been legal since 1999, legalized growth and possession of marijuana for personal use without a medical recommendation passed by referendum just last fall.

Retail sale was enabled at that time too, but the legislature delayed it to allow time to improve and tighten the rules and requirements.

For example, the law passed by the referendum did not require child safe packaging. The bill we’ll vote on sets up product safety testing requirements, labeling, and packaging rules, as well as other important standards designed to create an orderly market. It will also impose a significant tax on retail sales. This tax could produce sorely needed state revenue, as much as $20 million per year.

Although I believe the legalization of marijuana – and in particular high potency derivatives of marijuana – is problematic, it is here.

Without the legalization of retail sales, illicit markets are the only source of supply and are encouraged to grow. Sales on the illicit market have zero safety standards, create incentives for the wrong kinds of activity, and don’t produce a penny in taxes to fund substance abuse programs, which is where I’d like to see the new revenue directed.

So I hope we can find a path toward some level of retail sales, for those cities and towns that choose to participate.

It’s sure to be an extraordinary week in the legislative special session. As always, I’d welcome your thoughts and direction! Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is an Independent State Representative serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste Commission. Marty hosts a podcast for Maine entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show. Find it on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com or facebook.com/repgrohman

Return to top