The state ethics commission says that Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, does not have a conflict of interest in voting on legislation regarding wind power.

Hinck’s wife, Juliet Browne, is a lawyer who represents several wind power developers. Hinck is co-chairman of the Utilities and Energy Committee, and says he has made an extra effort to familiarize himself with energy issues because they are important for the state.

He asked the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to rule on whether his wife’s position creates a conflict for him when he considers bills that could benefit her clients.

He said some members of the public have been particularly concerned about a bill that came from the Governor’s Task Force of Wind Power Development, on which Browne served.

The resulting bill laid the groundwork for expedited approval of wind power development in Maine. Browne was present at least once during a hearing that Hinck’s committee held on the bill, he said, but Browne did not testify.

He told the commission that, as a first-term representative, he mainly listened during the proceedings.

He was not co-chairman of the committee then. The bill was fully supported by his committee and passed the Legislature without opposition.

Most of Browne’s work relates to the permitting of specific wind projects, he said, which is handled by the Natural Resources Committee.

But Browne’s clients have a clear interest in the work that Hinck and his committee does.

The chairman of the ethics commission, Walter McKee, said the opinion issued by the group on Thursday relied on Hinck’s objective presentation of facts.

In clearing Hinck of conflict, the commission upheld a 1983 decision regarding then-Rep. Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro.

Mitchell, now Senate president and a Democratic candidate for governor, asked the commission to rule whether her husband’s lobbying for a hospital posed a conflict for her on a piece of health care legislation.

The commission ruled it was a conflict, and Mitchell abstained from voting on the legislation. Then-Attorney General Jim Tierney then overruled the commission.

“The Legislature never intended that a member of either House must be disqualified from voting on a proposal merely because she or a member of her immediate family is compensated for work performed for an employer or a client who might be affected by the legislation,” Tierney wrote.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

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