It’s not about politics. It’s about our system of checks and balances

Senator Lisa Keim delivers this week’s Republican Radio Address

By Senator Lisa Keim

In a move that obstructs the Legislature’s oversight responsibility, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew refused last month to share records with the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC). After a record 34 children died last year, Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to undertake a comprehensive review of the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services division, or OCFS.

Sen. Lisa Keim

We’ve seen this evasive pattern repeated over the years. The Legislative Branch and its Government Oversight Committee, of which I am the Senate Republican Lead, have a well-defined statutory authority to oversee the Executive Branch. This oversight authority must be firmly upheld or its essential role will be eroded.

Hello, this is Senator Lisa Keim of Oxford County; and it’s my pleasure to join you for this week’s Republican Radio Address.

It is our job as Legislators to make sure that taxpayer monies are spent in the manner we prescribe. When it comes to how the government operates, we also ensure state programs perform the functions they’re supposed to – and get the results we expect – through our Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA.

Given the heartbreaking number of children who died last year, the results we’ve seen from OCFS fall far below expectation. Last year’s record level of deaths prompted the need for greater oversight of OCFS and its parent agency DHHS, and led to the Committee’s request for the confidential records of four children who died last year. Lambrew’s refusal was based on the opinion of Assistant Attorney General Ariel Gannon, who stated that Government Oversight Committee members were not entitled to the records.

We disagree. The Committee – through a near-unanimous vote – took the step this week to subpoena those records.

The Government Oversight Committee is an investigative committee that draws its unique authority from a specific statute. This statute gives it broad powers, including the right to gain otherwise nonpublic information; to examine witnesses; to hold hearings; to administer oaths; to issue subpoenas; and to hold those who obstruct our process in contempt.

GOC has subpoenaed records in the past, and under Maine law, Title 22 mandates the disclosure of confidential child protective activity records to “an appropriate … legislative official with responsibility for child protective services.” We are exactly that.

While a full review of OCFS is warranted given its recent heartbreaking track record, the current disagreement that led to our subpoena ultimately boils down to the Legislature’s duty to uphold a system of checks and balances over executive bureaucracy.

Instead, what we have seen for years now is a lack of transparency from the Department of Health and Human Services and its Office of Child and Family Services along with a defensive culture against such oversight. After nearly a year since our investigation first began in August 2021, we still don’t have the answers.

We need a Department of Health of Human Services that is transparent to both the Legislature and Maine’s people. Our system of government was thoughtfully designed to provide checks and balances for such a moment as this; and it was time for the Legislative Branch, once again, to assert its authority and equal role in our government. Again, this is Senator Lisa Keim of Oxford County, and I hope you have a great weekend.

Sen. Lisa Keim is in her third term representing District 18. She is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Government Oversight and Judiciary committees.

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