Senator Trey Stewart discusses the remarkable public response via testimony on a recent issue
Something remarkable happened in the State Legislature recently.
Hello, I am Senator Trey Stewart of Presque Isle; and I represent District 2 in the Maine State Senate.
On March 29, the Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government held public hearings on 14 bills designated to require a governor to seek the input and approval of the legislative branch before renewing emergency declarations.
That there were fourteen bills introduced on basically the same subject is remarkable in itself, but it was the public input that made this a very unusual situation.
For this entire legislative session, with the exception of four days when the House and Senate each met as whole, the business of the Legislature has taken place online, rather than in-person. This makes it challenging for citizens to navigate the new process and make their voices heard.
Despite the new obstacles, more than 170 members of the public submitted 373 pieces of written testimony. Citizens from all sixteen Maine counties made their views known. All of these are available for viewing online as is the video of the entire hearing, which lasted more than three hours.
Among them is my own video testimony to the committee regarding LD 985 that I submitted which calls for an amendment to the Maine Constitution that would limit any emergency declaration to sixty days without the approval of the Legislature.
On the day of the hearing, more than a dozen Mainers navigated the Zoom process and weighed in with oral testimony, some waiting hours in the queue for their turn to speak. The testimony is also remarkable for the very few advocacy and lobbying groups who weighed in. This was largely an event dominated by everyday people who were passionate enough about the subject to take the time and find the technological pathway to get their views in front of state legislators.
As to the results, roughly 99% of the testimony favored the proposals contained in one or more of the bills. In all, Maine citizens submitted just six pieces of testimony in opposition to any of the bills, the rest were overwhelmingly in favor by a ratio of forty to one.
Regardless of where you come down on the issues discussed, this hearing was important as a symbol and a demonstration of how the legislative process can continue even in the face of a global pandemic, and that the voice of the people will find a way to navigate whatever obstacles it may encounter in order to be heard by those in positions of power.
Again, I am Senator Trey Stewart of Presque Isle and District 2. Have a wonderful Maine weekend.