Originally, this week’s column was going to be the third part in our election series about avoiding disinformation, particularly on state referendums. However, the major referendum for this November’s ballot was deemed unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Court within the last week. This will likely lead to the referendum not appearing on the November ballot, and making that column idea a moot point. Therefore this week, I want to first explain what happened in that case, because again there is some misinformation out there. Then I want to completely switch gears to discuss a brand new program we’re rolling out to help business leaders to meet the moment we are in.

First off, explaining the Maine Supreme Court ruling.

New England Clean Energy Connect is a proposed project to bring hydropower from Quebec to the New England energy grid through Maine. There has been much debate about the project, but the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the project after a strenuous application process and several public hearings and issued the licensing they needed. The opponents of the project created a citizen referendum to overturn the PUC decision and got the required signatures to place the question on the ballot.

This week the Maine Supreme Court made a preemptive decision that the referendum is unconstitutional according to article IV, part 3, section 18 of the Maine Constitution. In layman’s terms, the citizen initiative process is for bills and laws enacted by the Legislature, meaning the Maine House and Senate (think about the minimum wage increase in 2016). However, the ruling by the Public Utilities Commission is not legislative, and therefore the citizen’s initiative process cannot overturn their ruling.

To go a little deeper, according to their website, the Maine Public Utilities Commission “regulates electric, gas, telephone and water utilities to ensure that Maine citizens have access to safe and reliable utility services at rates that are just and reasonable for all ratepayers”. On that same page it describes their process: “Like a court, the Commission adjudicates cases and it may take testimony, subpoena witnesses and records, issue decisions or orders, hold public and evidentiary hearings, and encourage participation by all affected parties, including utility customers.”

The Public Utilities Commission has two parts to their work. Sometimes they help write bills, laws and polices when asked to by the legislature. However, the other part of their work is when they act as a quasi-judicial branch with the executive power to decide cases as outlined above (FYI “quasi-judicial” is a legal term for ‘a decision-making body that doesn’t necessarily fall under the Judicial branch of government’). This citizen’s initiative attempted to overturn their judicial work.

It’s like trying to overturn a lawsuit decision by citizen vote. That simply isn’t the process to appeal a judicial decision. For example, say someone slipped and fell at Cory’s Grocery Store, and the case was heard and the judge or jury ruled in favor of Cory’s Grocery Store. A citizen’s initiative referendum could not overturn that judicial decision, and rule against Cory’s Grocery Store. That’s what the Maine Supreme Court said- that a citizen’s referendum cannot, according to the Maine Constitution, overrule a judicial decision.

The timing has been questioned, on why the Supreme Court would rule on this prior to the referendum taking place, when typically Constitutional challenges are rendered after the referendum passes (because if they don’t pass it’s a moot point). The difference here is that past referendums had all been about legislative issues and enacting or overturning legislative laws- this referendum attempted to overturn a judicial decision, which is just not possible, according to the Maine Constitution.

Unless there is an appeal, then there will not be any referendums on the November ballot. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know how to research it. Until then, please use this explanation to combat disinformation as to why this decision was made. I’ve seen several misleading claims, when really it’s as simple as, you can’t overturn a judicial decision by referendum.

With no good literary transition to the second part of the column, I’ll borrow this one from Monty Python: ‘And now for something completely different.’

This week, our chamber released registration for an online business seminar series that begins on Sept. 15. “Leaders Lead in the Midcoast” is a three-part series, and we’re excited to offer it to our chamber members and non-members alike.

The series is brought to us in coordination with one of our business solution companies, Price Associates. These sessions will be live online and will run from 12 noon to 1PM on the dates listed:

Session #1, September 15: Make Stress Work for You: Identify your type of stress and discuss strategies to manage and reduce it. A personal Stress Assessment comes with this.

Session #2. September 29: Increasing Team & Employee Engagement: Learn about behaviors and elements of effective teams and communication. A personal Behavioral Assessment comes with this.

Session #3, October 13: Building Your Leadership Pipeline: Learn how to apply behaviors for supporting and getting the most out of employees using the two prior assessments.

These sessions, though helpful to all, are designed for business leaders. As you see, each comes with a personal assessment to take prior to the online discussion. During each session you’ll find out how to interpret the results of your personal assessment and find out how to put them into action. It’s a very interactive discussion (though you’re welcome to eat lunch while we virtually chat). You don’t have to attend all three sessions but you are welcome to. There is a nominal fee of $10 per session or $25 for all three sessions. These are great skills to acquire in general, and perhaps even more necessary during the Covid-19 era.

For more information on these sessions or to sign up, contact the chamber office at 725-8797, or register online at www.midcoastmaine.com

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: