According to www.ballotpedia.org, an online encyclopedia about politics at the local, state, and federal level, the following bills have been proposed in 2015, to modify the citizen petition process in Maine:

LD 742: “Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Require That 5 Percent Of Signatures On A Direct Initiative Of Legislation Come From Each County.” Sponsored by Sen. Thomas Saviello (R-Franklin); Referred to the Veterans & Legal Affairs Committee.

LD 176: “An Act To Amend The Law Governing The Gathering Of Signatures For Direct Initiatives And People’s Veto Referenda.” Sponsored by Rep. Stanley Short (I-Pittsfield); Referred to the Veterans & Legal Affairs Committee. LD 176 was designed to establish additional requirements for circulators of citizen petition measures. LD 176 has been replaced with a more streamlined simpler version, Committee Amendment H-98. C “A” (H-98) was voted ought to pass by the Veterans & Legal Affairs Committee on April 24, 2015, and is pending further review.

LD 145: “An Act To Amend the Verification and Certification Process for Direct Initiatives and People’s Veto Referenda.” Sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland); Referred to the Veterans & Legal Affairs Committee. According to ballotpedia, “This bill removes the duty of verifying and certifying petitions in direct initiatives of legislation and people’s veto referenda from municipal clerks and registrars and instead requires the Secretary of State to verify and certify all petitions. The Secretary of State is also required by this bill to send a random sampling of 10% of the petitions back to the municipalities to review for accuracy and audit purposes. The bill would also create three positions in the Secretary of State’s office to assist in the verification and certification process for petitions in direct initiatives and people’s veto referenda.”

Animal rights groups claim that all of these proposed changes to Maine’s citizen petition process are a thinly veiled attempt by the powerful hunting lobby in this state to complicate the process of getting a citizen petition on the ballot to discourage future referendums on wildlife issues subsequent to the close vote of the failed bear referendum of November 2014, and the possible introduction of a bear hounding and trapping referendum in 2016. Animal rights groups question the extra residency requirements proposed by LD 176 when according to ballotpedia, “Maine requires that petition circulators are registered to vote in Maine, indirectly requiring them to be residents of the state.” They ask why create three additional positions as proposed by LD 145 in the Secretary of State’s office to review citizen petitions? Have there been any problems with municipal clerks and registrars verifying and certifying petitions in the past?

A proposed amendment to the Constitution of Maine, LD 742, would require that five percent of signatures on a citizen petition come from each county. This can only be a response by the hunting lobby’s perception of the populace of southern Maine as being more sympathetic to referendums on wildlife as opposed to the citizens of northern Maine, many more of whom make their living from bear baiting, guiding, etc … but is this fair? There are two citizen petitions in this state that are in the making right now: One to legalize the recreational use of marijuana; the other to raise the minimum wage. Should we break the vote down by county so as to influence the results because citizens in northern counties might be more conservative on such matters than citizens in southern counties to get the results that some people want?

LD 754: “Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Ensure That Laws Governing Hunting And Fishing Are Not Subject To The Citizen Petition Process.” Fortunately, this proposed amendment, which would have eliminated wildlife issues from being voted on at all in the citizen petition process, was declared dead on April 28, 2015, and placed in the legislative files.

LD 1084: “Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Exclude Wildlife Issues from Citizen Initiatives.” Unfortunately, this proposed amendment, which was referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in March 2015, is still pending.

A quick review of the registered lobbyists at www.Mainecampaignfinance.com under lobbyist compensation for 2015 reveals that for the first three months of 2015, a total of four lobbyists were paid by the Maine Professional Guides Association ($12,000), the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance ($3,000), Grand Lake Stream Guides Association ($2,000), the Maine Trappers Association ($1,000), the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine ($569.57), and the National Rifle Association of America, ($4,461.65) to enact the aforementioned proposals as opposed to the one lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States, who is working to defeat them. These four lobbyists, who worked to defeat the bear referendum in 2014, were paid a total of $23,031.22, thus far in 2015, as opposed to the one lobbyist for the HSUS, who was paid $771.40, thus far in 2015.

All of the above proposals are being characterized by the hunting lobby as necessary and good to make the citizen referendum process in Maine more fair and equitable when many feel that in reality these proposals are designed to restrict the citizen initiative process to preserve the status quo on wildlife issues. You can read the entire text of the current laws and the proposed changes pertaining to the initiative process in Maine at www.ballotpedia.org and decide for yourself what is right and true.

— Val Philbrick works in the production department of the Journal Tribune as a pre-press person. She is a member of PETA and the Humane Society of the United States.