An effort to overturn a constitutional amendment that prohibits the printing of 2,100 words of the Maine Constitution has failed because of concerns about the cost of including the question on the ballot.

The redacted sections, which include the treaty obligations to Indian tribes that Maine agreed to assume as a condition of its separation from Massachusetts in 1820, have been forbidden to be published with the rest of the state’s fundamental laws, even though they are still technically in effect, the result of an 1875 constitutional amendment.

Rep. Henry Bear, the Maliseet tribe’s representative to the Legislature, introduced a bill that sought to undo the ban via a constitutional amendment. It received near-unanimous support from a legislative panel until legislative staff raised the possibility that the referendum might increase the cost of November’s election by $107,250.

Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, opposed the bill because of concerns over the potential cost. When the staff warned that the measure could result in the need to produce and distribute a second ballot, Guerin said, she contacted the office of Attorney General Janet Mills, seeking a compromise solution.

That compromise language, agreed to by Bear, dropped the effort to change the Constitution. Instead, the bill directs the secretary of state, Maine State Library and Legislative Reference Library to make the redacted sections “more prominently available to educators and to the inquiring public” using existing resources.

That resolve passed both houses of the Legislature on Wednesday. Gov. Paul LePage has 10 days to sign or veto it. Otherwise it becomes law.

Guerin said her only concern with the original bill, L.D. 893, had been its cost, given the many competing priorities in the state budget.

“I think Rep. Bear’s intent was to get that language out to school groups and people who might be interested in history, so I was happy to work with the AG to come up with the resolve idea so it gets it out there,” she said. “I was glad we could come up with a compromise.”

The effort has symbolic importance to Maine’s four federally recognized Indian tribes, some of which were adversely affected for a century by the suppression of the contents of Article X, Section 5, of the Constitution that enumerated Maine’s obligations to them.

The redacted section is the text of the 1816 Act of Separation, the Massachusetts law that allowed the District of Maine to become an independent state. The text includes a section obligating Maine to “assume and perform all the duties of (Massachusetts) towards the Indians within said District of Maine, whether the same arise from treaties or otherwise.” It directs Maine to set aside land valued at $30,000 for tribal use, at a time when undeveloped land in Maine sold for 3 to 4 cents an acre.

Maine reneged on the treaty duties both before and after publication of Section 5 was prohibited. The land was apparently never set aside, even though Maine had received $30,000 in compensation from Massachusetts. The state also looted the Passamaquoddy tribe’s trust fund, which had been established by Massachusetts in accordance with a 1794 treaty. In 1968, that tribe’s attorney, Don Gellers, was arrested in his home on marijuana possession charges just hours after returning from filing a suit against Maine for recovery of that trust fund, which was estimated to be worth $150 million at that time.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

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