Politics

March 23, 2013

Panel tables bill to make Maine gun data private

Republicans criticize the delay, but the committee chair says it's needed to consider a proposed compromise.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A bill to shield personal information on Maine concealed-weapons permits from the public was tabled on a party-line vote in a legislative committee Thursday, prompting Republicans to accuse Democratic leaders of stalling.

But the chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, said the panel needs more time to consider a complex amendment offered by another legislator.

"It's not a stall tactic at all," Valentino said. "There is no urgency to pass this bill today versus Tuesday or Thursday of next week."

LD 345, sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, would permanently remove the names, addresses and dates of birth of permit holders from the public record. At a public hearing last month, the proposal won strong support from gun-rights groups and sportsmen but was criticized by advocates for open records and government transparency.

The Legislature overwhelmingly approved a separate bill last month that makes the permit information private until April 30, to give lawmakers time to work on Wilson's measure.

At Thursday's work session, Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, proposed a major amendment to the bill. He would leave the information public, but would limit requests to one permit per day, while offering confidentiality to certain groups of people.

Those groups, Priest said, should include retired and active police or corrections officials, those with protection-from-abuse orders, current or former criminal witnesses, criminal jurors and anyone who files an affidavit saying their life would be endangered if their permit-holding status was known.

He said he would also require proof of identification from anyone who requests permit information.

The contents of Wilson's bill were public just before mid-February, but on Valentine's Day, when was it made public that the Bangor Daily News had requested then-public information on every permit holder in Maine, gun-rights advocates mobilized behind the bill.

The state also received an email request for the information from an entity called CelebrationConnect. The source of that email has not been identified, and the request was not filled.

The newspaper said it wouldn't publish the identifying information, and it ultimately withdrew its request after it came under withering criticism from gun-rights advocates, newspaper readers and permit holders. Many of the critics contended that publishing the information would make permit holders vulnerable to criminals intent on stealing guns.

The controversy flared about two months after a New York newspaper used similar data to create an interactive, online map of handgun permit holders in its coverage area.

The committee tabled the bill Thursday on a 7-5 party line vote, with two Democrats who voiced support for Wilson’s bill — Rep. Lisa Villa, D-Harrison and Rep. Stephen Moriarty, D-Cumberland, joining other party members in the tabling motion.

Afterward, the lead Republican on the panel, Jarrod Crockett of Bethel, said Democrats were deliberately dragging their feet.

“It’s strictly party politics because their caucus is divided on the issue,” he said. “They’re just doing a stalling action to get votes and it’s really a disservice to all the members of the public that were here.”

 Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

This story has been corrected to say Wilson's bill was introduced before it was known that the Bangor Daily News requested permit data.

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