In the early hours of April 18, Maine’s legislators left the State House after spending months workshopping, debating and voting on bills that impact the lives of all Mainers.

Legislators are expected to return just one more time to vote on whether to override any vetoes the governor issues before adjourning for good. Mainers paying attention will notice that the Legislature concluded the bulk of its work without addressing one of today’s most urgent concerns: Maine’s failing child protection system that places kids in harm’s way.

A critical piece of legislation, L.D. 779, would have removed the Office of Child and Family Services from under the Department of Health and Human Services and made it its own department, thus increasing transparency and dedicating more resources to this pressing issue. I sponsored a nearly identical bill when I was a state senator in 2021; that bill failed to become law after earning bipartisan support in the Senate but failing to earn enough support in the House. It was a disappointing outcome, but the fate of L.D. 779 is worse.

Rather than taking honest votes for or against this bill, legislators avoided a politically thorny issue by taking advantage of little-known parliamentary maneuvers to skirt accountability and avoid healthy debate. Once again, the measure received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, with 22 senators supporting and eight opposed. When it was time for the House to vote, amid speculation that the bill could actually pass, the bill was tabled, and it would remain tabled until the Legislature adjourned. Thus, L.D. 779 and any chance of its passage was killed, without even the chance for discussion on the House floor.

There were reasons to be hopeful that the Legislature might be ready to make real change this year. In November 2023, the director of the Office of Child and Family Services resigned amid ongoing frustration and scrutiny from the public and members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. In December 2023, the nonprofit Walk a Mile in Their Shoes released a 32-page report outlining the ways in which Maine’s child protection system is failing and making recommendations for improvements. The report reflects the voices of hundreds of Mainers who came forward to share their experiences with the child protection system, often at great personal risk.

And in January 2024, just as the Legislature started its work, the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman released her fourth report in as many years highlighting the serious deficiencies in Maine’s child protection system that leave children vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Perhaps more than ever, Maine people were mobilized in support of real change to the system, and they were ready to advocate for that change at the State House.


That’s what makes the fate of L.D. 779 and this lack of legislative accountability all the more frustrating. For this important bill to be killed without even the chance for open debate is disrespectful to the many people who have dedicated years of their lives to improving the protection of children in state care. As the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Timberlake, told the Press Herald: “We could have at least had the conversation.”

For a total of 26 years, I served in the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine State Senate. I am familiar with the tactics legislators use to avoid going on the record in support of or in opposition to controversial issues. These “strategies” – including “taking a walk” to miss a vote – come in handy when legislators fear that their positions will come back to haunt them in future elections or make life difficult for their allies.

Some of these tactics are hard for the public, the media, and in some cases even fellow legislators to detect. Indefinitely tabling a bill – knowing that the bill will automatically die when the Legislature adjourns, as happened to L.D. 779 – is just one way this can happen.

I write to help the public better understand the tactics that were used to block a healthy discussion about child protection in our state. They are tactics that the people of Maine should not tolerate from their representatives, especially as Maine children experience recurring maltreatment at more than twice the national average.

Maine people need to have the tools to understand what’s happening in Augusta, especially when it comes to the critical issue of protecting children. And Maine’s legislators need to prioritize child protection and government accountability over political expediency and the wishes of DHHS. Maine’s children are counting on them.

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