A bill that would require all Maine legislation be evaluated for impacts on historically disadvantaged racial or ethnic groups made headway Wednesday.

Members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government voted 7-5 to pass L.D. 2, introduced by Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland.

L.D. 2 “An Act to Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process” will now be brought to the full House for a vote though it’s not clear when that might happen. The measure would require that racial impact statements be included with all bills before the Legislature.

If passed, the Legislative Council, made up of Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate, would create a pilot program next year with several legislative committees. Those committees would review relevant data from state agencies and make findings on the racial impact a measure would be likely to have. After next year’s session, the council would make a recommendation on the expanded use of the process.

“When we approach policymaking intentionally, with consideration for all Mainers, we as lawmakers will be empowered to do our job well, and to make policy that benefits everyone,” Talbot Ross said in a statement. “With the use of racial impact statements, we can ensure that we have the impartial information we need to make the best possible decisions for our state – and those who come after us have this tool to do the same in the future.”

More than 100 people testified earlier this month in support of the bill. The measure would give legislative committees the discretion to request data from a state commissioner or director of a state agency that would be used to develop a racial impact statement – an objective, nonpartisan analysis of how historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups would be affected, according to Talbot Ross.

“Racial injustice does not just harm Black, Indigenous and people of color. It harms all of us,” Talbot said in a Feb. 3 statement she presented to the Committee on State and Local Government. “As long as there are those among us who are hampered by it, our communities cannot reach our shared potential economically, culturally or intellectually.”

Talbot Ross is one of only two Black lawmakers in the 186-member Legislature and is the first Black person to hold a legislative leadership position.

“All lawmaking interacts with historical racial inequities,” Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “Unless legislators are vigilant and intentional about their lawmaking, we will keep cementing those inequities. To be vigilant and intentional, policymakers need data. Racial impact statements are a tool to get this data, so that lawmakers can legislate more fairly, more justly and more wisely.”

L.D. 2 would be a significant step toward dismantling institutional racism in Maine, said Adam Goode, legislative and political director for the Maine AFL-CIO.

“While it will not end racism, the use of racial impact statements as a tool to address racial disparities through lawmaking will have a significant and long-lasting impact,” Goode said.

The legislation makes sense, said James Myall, policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“The bill is based on a simple premise: Racial disparities in Maine are real, and can be exacerbated or improved by policy. The same way we assess spending bills to determine their impact on state finances or assess new infrastructure to see how it would affect our environment, we can and should rate legislation for how it would help or hinder racial justice,” Myall said.

Talbot Ross said seven states currently use racial impact statements in their legislative process. She said other states are considering similar measures.


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