Maine’s top court ruled Friday that lawmakers can enact any citizen referendum initiatives that have qualified for the fall ballot.

The advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court likely only affects one question, which lawmakers say enjoys widespread support in the Legislature and across the state: Banning foreign spending on the state referendum campaign.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, who is leading that referendum campaign, urged lawmakers in light of the court decision to enact the bill without sending it to the ballot. He said a citizen referendum is a petition for the government to act and should only be used as a backstop if lawmakers choose not to act.

“I urge my colleagues to stand with the Maine people and vote in support of L.D. 1610 to prevent foreign governments from interfering with our elections,” Bennett said. “The opponents of this initiative are few, foreign, and financially unfettered. They have already managed to sow confusion into the very process by which Maine voters can affect our laws, hence the need for a solemn occasion. We cannot let them succeed.”

In a mixed ruling, the high court said lawmakers have the right to enact any of the measures that have qualified for the ballot, or offer an amended version or competing measure. If lawmakers adopt a referendum initiative without any changes, then that question does not need to go to voters.

But the opinion also says that Gov. Janet Mills and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows were required by law to send all of the citizen referendums to voters this fall because lawmakers failed to act on them before adjourning in March and returning for a special session.


“We are pleased the Supreme Judicial Court confirmed that the governor, who acted in consultation with the attorney general and secretary of state, was right to issue four proclamations sending the questions to voters – a ministerial act required by the Maine Constitution, consistent with past practice, and done without regard to the content of the proposals,” said Ben Goodman, a spokesperson for Mills.

It’s unclear when – and if – the Legislature will take up the measure dealing with foreign spending on state campaigns.

Legislative committees have mostly wrapped up their work. And the bill, L.D. 1610, still needs to be voted out of the Veteran’s and Legal Affairs Committee before it can be taken up by the full Legislature in the closing days of the session.

Spokespeople for Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, did not immediately respond to questions on Friday afternoon.

Lawmakers asked the Maine Supreme Judicial to weigh in on the dispute with the administration last May.

Typically, lawmakers have the option of either enacting a citizen referendum initiative that qualifies for the ballot or sending it to voters.


But the administration argued they were obligated under the law to send the questions to voters, which seemed to preclude the Legislature from enacting any of them. But the two actions do not appear to be mutually exclusive.

On Friday, the Law Court concluded that Mills and Bellows were obligated to send the referendum initiatives to voters this fall because they were formally presented to the Legislature during the first session, even though the actual bill text had not been drafted or referred to any committee.

The court also ruled that lawmakers could still act on the measures.

“We opine that a Legislature that does not enact a measure without change during a regular session can still – during a special session – enact any of the proposed measures without change,” the justices wrote. “To hold otherwise would thwart the constitutional power of the Legislature to adopt an initiative without change.”

The opinion was signed by five of the seven justices, with Justices Catherine Connors and Rick Lawrence recusing themselves for unspecified reasons.

At least three other citizen referendums are expected to be sent to the ballot this November, including a proposal to create a consumer-owned utility and a so-called “right-to-repair” law that would help independent repair shops service newer vehicles.

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