AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Monday in favor of a bill to make it a crime for lobbyists to lie to the Legislature after narrowing the bill to exclude the public – and themselves.

As originally written, the bill would have made it a misdemeanor for lobbyists, members of the public or state employees to purposely provide false testimony or to “purposely omit or conceal a material fact” during testimony to legislative committees. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, also sought on Monday to add language making it a crime for lawmakers to lie to their colleagues when testifying in committee.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and several members of the State and Local Government Committee – mostly Democrats – initially raised concerns Monday about the proposal’s enforceability and about discouraging the public from participating in the legislative process. But after meeting behind closed doors for party caucuses, Republican committee members proposed stripping out potential sanctions against members of the public or state employees and, instead, limiting the new crime of providing false testimony to paid lobbyists and lobbyist associates.

The new version also does not include Sirocki’s proposal to include lawmakers in the bill, and it eliminates language allowing committee chairmen to administer an oath to speakers.

The change was enough to change the votes of several Democrats on the committee, however, and the lobbyist-only language won committee endorsement on a 10-2 vote. The bill, L.D. 850, now goes to the full Legislature for a vote and likely debate.

“I’m disappointed because I really wanted everybody testifying before us to be telling the truth,” said Sirocki, who argued truthful testimony is particularly important to Maine’s part-time, citizen legislators. “It’s a start.”

Maine is one of nine states that have no laws against providing false information in committee. Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia prohibit lobbyists from providing false testimony, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and some states require speakers to take an oath before testifying in committee.

Any allegations against lobbyists would be passed along to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for review and potential prosecution.

“Is there any evidence that lobbyists are liars?” asked Rep. John Madigan, D-Rumford. “They are paid, they are lawyers, they are specialists. But is there evidence of how many times they are caught in a lie? … I don’t know whether they are liars or whether they are honorable people.”

“Stick around for a while,” responded the committee’s Senate chairman, Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, eliciting laughter from the committee members.

The amended bill’s singular focus on lobbyists – who are required to register with the state and disclose their clients – is likely to spark debate on the House and Senate floor, as will the omission of lawmakers and the question of enforceability. Several committee members, including a few lawmakers who voted for the amended bill, raised concerns about the Legislature being forced to become “judge and jury” on those testifying.

“Enforcing it and making us the police just doesn’t sit well with me,” said Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham. Bryant cast one of the two “no” votes along with Sen. Susan Deschambault, D-Biddeford.