LD 2  supports looking at all future legislation through a racial equity lens

On February 3, the Committee on State and Local Government of the Maine House of Representatives held a public hearing on LD 2, An Act To Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process. Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland is the bill’s sponsor. Testimony from the public – over 1oo testimonials – lasted for four hours, well into the afternoon. All who testified were in favor of moving the bill to the next stage in the legislative process – work sessions. On February 17, members of the Committee on State and Local Government voted 7-5 to pass the bill with minor amendments presented by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland. The bill will now go to the House floor for a vote.

The intent of LD 2 is to ensure that legislators look at bills through a racial equity lens when new bills are being considered. In other words, data and evidence relating to any new bill would be analyzed to gauge potential impact of passage of that bill on historically disadvantaged racial populations. In this way, the impact of any new laws on Black, Indigenous, and people of color in Maine would be taken into consideration as decisions are made by the legislature.

At an online press conference before the public hearing, Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross described LD 2 as “ impartial, objective, and non-partisan,”  and an “opportunity to disrupt the historical pattern.” She and others emphasized throughout the public hearing that LD 2 was introduced because racist policies have negatively impacted people’s lives in Maine in the past, and will continue to do so into the present, and future, if not dismantled.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash spoke at the press conference of the need for ‘fundamental change in our policies and the way we pass our laws.’ He emphasized,  “We don’t pass spending bills without first determining the fiscal impact. We shouldn’t pass legislation without assessing the impact policies have on historically marginalized Maine people.”

James Myall, Policy Analyst, Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) later reflected, “At its core, LD2 is about evidence-based policymaking. Its primary purpose is to give lawmakers the information they need to make sound decisions. This 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.”

House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford said at the public hearing that he sees the bill asan opportunity to incorporate the best possible research on our decision making… We have a responsibility to serve all citizens in the decisions we make… We cannot fix what we do not measure.”

Making crystal clear how helpful data is when it comes to shining a light on systemic issues, Michael Kebede of the Maine American Civil Liberties Union shared data related to the pandemic, including that at one point in the summer months Maine topped the nation in terms of disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on BIPOC communities.

Speaking of health care, Whitney Parrish, Advocacy and Communications Director, Health Equity Alliance (HEAL) said, “Health disparities by race and ethnicity are striking and ripple throughout our communities and are felt for generations. As service providers and advocates, we see this every day in our work with people who are impacted by the opioid overdose death crisis and AIDS epidemic. We believe the use of racial impact statements in policy development and analysis is a critical step forward in closing health equity gaps and ensuring good, just, and equitable personal and public health outcomes for all Mainers and our communities.”

Those who presented testimony at the public hearing included representatives from tribal nations, immigrant advocacy groups, social justice organizations, health care providers, environmental groups, prisoner advocacy groups, as well as health care providers, elected officials, domestic violence and human trafficking survivors, the Maine Education Association, faith organizations, legal advocates, and individuals speaking from personal experience. Speaker after speaker stressed the importance of addressing the subtle, sometimes unintentional racism that develops from laws and policies that are not carefully considered before they are adopted. LD 2 was described by many as a tool to help ensure that Maine’s lawmakers develop and pass laws that will help all Mainers, and not disadvantage any.

Rep. Rena Newell, the non-voting representative of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, said, “Legislation written in Augusta by people who don’t know us has had a damaging impact on our lives. The historical record shows that Maine has a long dark history of enacting laws that have a negative impact on the communities I represent… No further policies should be crafted without fully realizing the true impact on disadvantaged populations.”

Alison Beyea, Executive Director, ACLU of Maine, said,“All lawmaking interacts with historical racial inequities. Unless legislators are vigilant and intentional about their lawmaking, we will keep cementing these 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.”

Jane Makela, of the Maine Unitarian Universalist State Advocacy Network reminded the committee at the public hearing that ‘racially neutral results in racial disparity,’ and she mused that passage of LD 2 could be a pivotal moment in Maine’s progress toward racial equity – a moment future generations might look back on with pride.

Mufalo Chitam, of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, discussed the increasing numbers of people of color in Maine – and their importance to the state’s economy. She shared estimates that Maine’s multicultural population has grown from 50K to 90K in the past decade, and also mentioned that Maine has approximately 10K BIPOC college and university students, some from out of state, a portion of whom could stay and build lives here, to the benefit of the economy – especially if the state is hospitable.

Joby Thoyalil, Senior Policy Advocate, Maine Equal Justice (MEJ), said, “The racial disparities we see throughout various systems in Maine are the result of a complex set of factors, including past and current unfair laws and policies. Lawmakers have a significant role in not only working to undo the effects of structural racism in our laws, but to also prevent further harm as they consider new laws. They also have the opportunity to be proactive with policies that intentionally work to reduce existing disparities. But to do any of this, they need access to the information that LD 2 seeks to provide.”

Shenna Bellows, Maine’s Secretary of State, charged with safeguarding Maine’s constitution, noted that Article 2, section 6A prohibits discrimination against persons. “LD 2 proposes to give meaning to that provision of the constitution,” she noted.