AUGUSTA — A southern Maine lawmaker wants to make lying to the Legislature a misdemeanor offense.

Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, isn’t suggesting that the Maine State House has become a scaled-down version of the deception- and corruption-filled corridors of Congress portrayed in the show “House of Cards.” But Sirocki said she is disturbed by the thought that anyone can purposely provide false testimony to the Legislature with impunity.

“My bill would make clear that you cannot come to the Legislature and lie about factual information,” said Sirocki, who is serving her fourth two-year term in the Maine House. “It’s one thing if you have an opinion, but it’s another thing when you lie about factual information.”

Her bill, L.D. 850, would make it a Class E misdemeanor crime – punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine – to “purposely provide false testimony regarding a material fact,” to purposely falsify testimony or to “purposely omit or conceal a material fact related to the testimony.” The penalty would rise to a Class D crime – punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $2,000 fine – if the falsehoods were made after the person had been asked to take an oath before a legislative committee.

The prohibition would apply to lobbyists, members of the public, state employees or representatives of the executive branch. Ironically, as introduced, the bill makes no mention of penalties against lawmakers lying to their colleagues – language Sirocki said she was told was unnecessary but that she hopes to add.

“The intent was to have everybody covered,” Sirocki said.

Several dozen other states have laws prohibiting lobbyists from providing false testimony. And some states require individuals appearing before a legislative body to take an oath swearing to the truthfulness of their testimony – an option but not a requirement under Sirocki’s bill.

One individual and one organization testified in support of Sirocki’s bill during a public hearing last week.

Suzanne Lafreniere, speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said Maine’s part-time, citizen legislators rely on lobbyists and public experts to inform them about the issues. The diocese supported the bill because “it will further the common good if everyone would act in a forthright manner with our legislators and legislative staff.”

“It is time to align Maine’s law with other states that have perceived the value of these types of requirements,” Lafreniere said in her testimony.

But the Secretary of State’s Office and the Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill.

Oamshri Amarasingham, a registered lobbyist with the ACLU of Maine, said state and federal courts have consistently struck down laws that seek “to punish speakers for the supposed falsehood of their speech.” In 2012, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law – the Stolen Valor Act – that was used to prosecute a man who had claimed at a public meeting that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

Amarasingham said L.D. 850 will only serve to intimidate members of the public who want to testify in Augusta.

“Honesty and integrity are intrinsic parts of the legislative process, so the need for honesty polices itself,” Amarasingham wrote in her testimony. “Those of us who frequent the building all know about lobbyists and legislators who stretch or bend the truth, or who make empty promises, and we learn not to trust them or work with them. People who lie at the statehouse will find themselves shut out of the legislative process, and that is the right form of punishment.”

Likewise, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap suggested that the process at the State House “polices itself” and that “people who dissemble, mislead, or outright lie don’t last long in Augusta.”

Instead, people with strong convictions on certain issues will often find information to bolster their arguments and contradict those offered by people on the other side, Dunlap said.

“It doesn’t mean they’re misleading, but it does mean they have a different perspective,” he said.

The Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee will hold a work session on Sirocki’s bill Monday at 1 p.m.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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