As the Maine Legislature returns to Augusta this month, its first order of business will be to consider the many bills carried over from the last session. One of these bills, L.D. 1815, entitled “An Act to Protect Maine’s Consumers by Establishing an Abuse of Dominance Right of Action and Requiring Notification of Mergers,” if passed, would be catastrophic for the small business community in Maine, particularly for businesses like mine that provide essential services to rural areas.

Essentially, the bill creates a private right of action (i.e. the right of the government or any person to sue you) if you are deemed to have a “dominant position” in any business, trade or service in your area. While this would be a windfall for plaintiffs’ lawyers, it would be a death knell for small businesses like mine, and it would prevent any business or entrepreneur from wanting to provide new or unique products or services to rural areas. Specifically in the grocery sector, it would prevent those from building stores in food deserts and rural areas without adequate access to healthy, fresh foods.

As the owner of Gowell’s Shop ’n Save stores in Litchfield and Greene, I take great pride in serving our community and providing a wide variety of meat, fresh produce and grocery staples. We’re a passionate and dedicated team that wholeheartedly supports our community. We have been successful because we work hard to please our customers, we pay our employees good wages and we strive to keep our prices low. Indeed, if people in Litchfield (or Greene) want to purchase groceries elsewhere, they would need to drive more than 20 minutes to the next grocery store.

In Maine, which is a very rural state, there are countless businesses such as ours that, practically speaking, are among the few that provide important products or services in their local communities. These examples are nearly endless and include local convenience stores, grocers, plumbers, hair stylists, insurance providers, masons, gas stations and craft breweries.

Yet, if L.D. 1815 becomes law, my business and many others could be deemed to have a “dominant position” in the local labor market, and therefore, we can be sued by the government or any person in the state claiming direct or indirect damages.

If you think I am exaggerating, you can read the text of the bill here. The definition of a “dominant position” under this bill is so broad that it applies to any person or business, in any labor market, conducting any business, trade or commerce in the state. In fact, if you are the seller of 60% or more of any particular product or service in your local market, or if you are the buyer of 50% or more of any particular product or service in your local market, you are presumed to have a dominant position. Think about how broadly this definition can apply in a rural state like Maine.

How many businesses in your area are among the few to sell a particular product or provide a particular service? I bet you will be able to come up with a very long list. Now imagine every one of those businesses being subject to a civil lawsuit because they are deemed to hold a “dominant position” in their market. I can think of no greater way to disincentivize entrepreneurship than this. It is absurd.

Antitrust laws are supposed to protect consumers from predatory pricing or business practices, not punish businesses simply because they provide a unique product or service in their area.

Please encourage your local senator or representative to oppose L.D. 1815. This is a terrible bill that would severely harm Maine’s small businesses.

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