(Cartoon by Greg Kearney)
(Cartoon by Greg Kearney)
Committee to Consider New Aquaculture Regulations

As aquaculture operations continue to expand, residents in coastal towns have been fiercely debating how to balance the need for new economic development with commercial fishing and environmental concerns. On February 18, the Legislature’s Marine Resource Committee will consider a bill that would set new standards for farming marine organisms. LD 1930, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight (D-Harpswell), would allow the Department of Marine Resources to revoke aquaculture leases if it finds that the company is operating in a manner that is “substantially injurious to public health or violating minimum lease standards.”

It would also prohibit aquaculture operations from expanding a lease until the business has held it for at least two years. The proposal would require the Department of Marine Resources to notify landowners with land adjacent to bodies of water that are being considered for aquaculture lease expansions. It would also require the lease applicant to provide public notice of its plans in local newspapers.

Protecting Teachers from Being Transferred

Occasionally, school administrators have been known to transfer teachers to other locations or assignments as a form of punishment. Often this tactic is used against union leaders or teachers who criticize administrative decisions. On February 18, the Education Committee will consider LD 1897, which would prohibit this practice. The measure would authorize teachers who have been involuntarily transferred to request a hearing with the school board, which would be required to reverse the transfer if it is found to be punitive or retaliatory.

Expunging Records of People with Misdemeanor Convictions

Possessing over five marijuana plants, prostitution and shoplifting are all low-level crimes in Maine, but they can still follow you for the rest of your life, particularly in the Internet age. On February 18, the Judiciary Committee will take up LD 1897, sponsored by Sen. Jim Dill (D-Penobscot County), which would allow people convicted of Class E, Class D and Class C crimes to petition a court to expunge all records of these crimes five years after the completion of their sentences. The proposed law would not apply to people who have subsequent convictions or crimes involving bribery, corruption, violence or sex offenses, or crimes against victims who were minors or over 65 years of age.

Prohibiting Prospective Employers from Asking About Criminal History

A criminal conviction, no matter how minor, can make it extremely difficult to find a job, as many employers require applicants to disclose whether they have a criminal history. However, a movement has grown across the country to stop this practice as 35 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted “ban the box” laws that require employers to consider a candidate’s qualifications before asking about arrest records, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Supporters of ban-the-box laws argue that requiring applicants to provide this information up front allows the employer to discriminate against people who have already served their time and are trying to turn their lives around.

On February 19, the Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing for LD 2087, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), which would prohibit most employers from requesting criminal history information on an application form before an interview. The proposal would allow the employer only to inquire about the prospective employee’s criminal history during an interview or once the applicant has been determined otherwise qualified for the position. It would also make it illegal, with some exceptions, for employers to state on job applications or help-wanted ads that people with criminal history may not apply.

Last session, the Legislature passed a “ban the box” bill for state employers, but it was vetoed by former Governor LePage, who argued that the bill would be costly, would add complexity to the hiring process, and would make people with criminal convictions “a protected class.”

Sealing the Records of Juvenile Offenders

On February 20, the Judiciary Committee could vote on a bill (LD 1670) that would automatically seal the records of juvenile crimes. Testifying in support of the bill, Erica King, Senior Justice Policy Associate at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, said there is no evidence that unsealed criminal records make the public safer. She noted that the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general U.S. population.

“Numerous collateral consequences accompany a felony conviction, including barriers to finding employment, housing and other services,” wrote King. “Girls, youth of color and LGBTQ youth are further marginalized by these practices.”

Also supporting the bill was Kendra Potz, a juvenile defense attorney from Camden, who testified at the public hearing on the bill that many juvenile behaviors that were handled without police involvement, such as physical altercations with other students at school or damaging property at home, are now being sent to court.

“What this means is that children are being charged with criminal mischief for getting into an argument with a parent and throwing a plate, or breaking a table, or damaging a wall,” wrote Potz. “While it is true that the juvenile system is often a means to get help for that child and their family, they are often left with a juvenile record. … I understand that the juvenile system has become a means to handle these issues, but I also believe that it is more than reasonable to seal these matters so that mistakes made by children (families and sometimes schools) can be left in the child’s past without marring their future.”

However, Christine Thibeault of the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office opposed the bill, arguing that if the bill passes prospective employers would “have no way of knowing” if an individual has a history of criminal behavior.

“Maine citizens will have no way of identifying individuals who may present a risk to their communities and/or families,” wrote Thibeault. “For example, a person who runs a criminal history record on an individual who they intend to hire as a child care worker to assist in caring for an aging parent would find no record of a person’s juvenile criminal conduct, which may be very serious and/or recent.”

Shielding Transgender People from Publicly Disclosing Name Changes

When Quinn Gormley, the executive director of the Maine Trans Gender Network, testified before the Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, she said the worst part of her job was “responding to the ever-present trauma of violence and rejection faced by trans people daily.” She noted that transgender people often experience physical and sexual assault, harassment and family violence. As a result, many trans people fear what will happen if they are outed publicly when the notice of their name change is posted in public notices in newspapers.

“Outing a trans person, such as through public notice, places them at risk of violence,” wrote Gormley. “It takes personal, stigmatized information and makes it available to peers, employers, estranged family and friends, and disapproving and hateful community members, among others. Being outed is often the spark that initiates instances of physical and sexual harm, family rejection, and workplace discrimination.”

That’s why Gormley and other LGBTQ activists are supporting LD 1771, which would allow a probate judge to limit the notice requirement for anyone who shows by a preponderance of evidence that they fear for their safety. The Judiciary Committee will take up the bill on February 20.

“Buy American” Cement, Iron & Steel Bill Returns

Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook County) is reintroducing his “Buy American” bill that would require the state to give preference to American manufacturing companies when it contracts for public works projects and other services. LD 1280, which will be heard by the State and Local Committee on February 19, would require that state-funded projects use iron, cement and steel manufactured in the United States. The proposed law would not apply to new schools or to municipal or county projects.

A similar bill passed the Legislature in 2017 but failed to be funded, so it died on adjournment. Back then, Jackson argued that “Mainers deserve to know that their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being spent on companies that hire Maine workers and use American-made products.”

The original bill did not include the requirement that state projects use cement from the U.S., but Thomaston-based Dragon Products, which is owned by a subsidiary of the Spanish giant Grupo Cementos Portland Valderrivas, encouraged a legislative committee to include the provision, pointing out that the local cement business is being increasingly threatened by foreign competition from subsidized Canadian cement companies.