So I went down to the legislature yesterday and had one of my more interesting days at our state capitol. I was there to testify on LD 785 more about that later. In fact that rather good hearing was just the jam in this sandwich of a day in Augusta. I started the day headed for the Clerk of the House’s office to make sure there were no loose ends after our Rally of Unity in the Hall of Flags on Monday. As I walked up the marble stairs the volume of chatter from the Hall of Flags was deafening. It was the Maine State Realtor’s Association lobby day. The Hall was packed and they were serving what looked like a very nice lunch. Oh, what money can buy. I wondered through the crowd looking for familiar faces and just sizing up the event. Impressive scene and I’m sure the legislators were impressed.
I continued up the stairs and ran into my friend Hillary Lister who was there to lobby on some medicinal marijuana bills. Including one that was being heard on the fourth floor in the plethora of bills having hearings that day around gun owner rights. I looked up into the rotunda and saw it ringed with stern looking men who were there to voice what they see as their second amendments rights. Later in the day, after I had attended the public hearing on 785, I wondered back over to the Statehouse and spoke with some friends who were also there for the marijuana bills. I was trying to find out where the gun bills were being heard. I was told that they were being heard throughout the Statehouse because the crowd was so beyond capacity that they were being piped into the Hall of Flags (the realtors were long gone) and the visitor’s center. Also that no one was being allowed into the hearing room unless you were on the testimony list and there were armed guards stationed outside the door. This I had to see. Making my way to the fourth floor I encountered the same, or very similar, group of grim faced men standing outside the hearing room and, sure enough, armed guards at the door. A big sign read “If you are not on the list to testify please go listen in the visitor’s center” or words to that effect. At the visitor’s center it was SRO with the grim faced men but a couple of babies and young women thrown in for variety. Another impressive scene. And again, I am sure the legislators were impressed. But this time because of the passion of these folks for their guns.
Money and passion. These are the two things that drive legislation. And it got me thinking about the machinations of government. Especially as those machinations chew up and spit out the little guy. The bill I was there to testify about was, at its core, about transparency in government. Here is my testimony:
“Senator Whittemore, Representative Martin, distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government. My name is Betsy Garrold, I live in Knox, Maine and represent The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that seeks to protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means, protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed foods directly from family farms and artisan food producers and protect the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and/or food processing.
I come here today to speak in favor of LD 785 An Act To Provide for Legislative Review of Federally Mandated Major Substantive Rules under the Maine Administrative Procedure Act. The constitution of the State of Maine asserts in Article One, Section Two that “all power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”
In order for the people of Maine to exercise their rights they must have free and open access to the workings of the government. As it stands now we do have access to the legislative branch and can seek to have enacted those laws that make sense and follow what is actually happening out in the real world. However, once those laws have been passed they are gobbled up by the various state departments and once chewed over and digested by those departments, out of sight of public scrutiny, the rules are regurgitated onto the public with no oversight by the legislators that passed the law or by the citizens. The rules then descend on the citizens and attempt to dictate their lives without any input from the citizenry into what those rules contain.
This is wrong. Democracy is meant to be transparent. As they say sunlight is the best disinfectant. What we are asking for here is to have a little light shed into the dark recesses of the rule-making process in the form of public legislative hearings. No mandates should be passed without the scrutiny of those affected by those rules, regulations and laws.
Please send this bill to the floor with a unanimous ought to pass vote and protect the rights of the citizens of Maine to know what their government is doing.
Thank you for your time.”
So sunlight and citizen participation. That is what we in our quiet little corner of the legislature were asking for yesterday. While the realtors made their presence felt with cash and the gun owners made theirs felt with overwhelming numbers we were working in the background to make sure that it is not all for show. That the flashy lunches and huge crowds that sway the legislative machine are not all for naught. When the people of Maine speak they can be heard. But the bureaucrats working in the background are the real center of power and they need to be reined in. So with no crowd and no fancy lunch we made our case for better oversight. We can only hope that our whisper is better than a shout.
Update: LD 785 got voted out of the State and Local Government committee unanimously Ought Not To Pass. The feeling among the supporters of this bill was that the committee just did not understand teh issue or how the bill would correct it. We will try again next legislature. Maybe next time we will have to speak a little louder.