Archive for February 23rd, 2014

Maine State Sen. Linda Valentino (D-York) Floor Speech Opposing Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428 (Video, Text)

Posted on February 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Last week, the 126th Maine State Legislature took up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”. The bill was voted down Tuesday in the Senate by a 19-16 vote and finally died with a 89-52 tally in the House on Thursday.

Judicial Committee Chair Senator Linda Valentino (D-York) rose to speak quite strongly and eloquently in opposition to the bill. Here is video of her floor speech presented on Tuesday to her colleagues with the senator’s prepared remarks.

Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President, Men and Women of the Senate, I rise today to say that I support religious freedom. And if I had to venture a guess, I would guess that almost everyone in this room, if not every person in this room, supports religious freedom.

I support the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. I support Article 1, Section 3 on religious freedom in the Maine Constitution. I even support the title of this bill, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.”

What I do not support is this bill. Bill titles do not become part of Maine Law.

I do not cast my vote based on the title of a bill. I cast my vote for the contents of the bill, for this is the part that will be entered into Maine Law.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

When our founders drafted the Constitution “religious freedom” and “equality” were lofty ideals, not reality. There was no equality for women or poor people or people of color. Religious freedom may have extended to people’s rights to worship and congregate, but certainly not to politics or jobs.

Many people may not realize that when the First Amendment was enacted, it applied only to laws passed by the U.S. Congress. State and local governments could abridge the free exercise of religion as long as there was no similar provision in their State Constitution. In South Carolina and Georgia’s original constitutions it stated that only men of the Protestant religion were eligible to sit in the House of Representatives. In Maryland, it wasn’t until 1828, that Jewish Americans were eligible as candidates to the Legislature.

Growing up in a very poor Irish-Catholic family in Portland, my father was a paper boy. One of his routes was the very exclusive West End. Hundreds of times I heard the story about his grandmother warning him that if he wanted to keep his job that if he ever met a person of a specific “privileged” religion on the sidewalk, in the West End, he was to get off the sidewalk and walk in the gutter until the person passed.

He also told me about signs for job openings hanging in shop windows saying “Catholics need not apply”. This was in the 1940’s.

Over the last 200 years, people in both Maine and the nation have fought hard to extend religious freedom to all denominations. I do not want to roll back any of the protections and advances we have made in religious freedom.
I admire the integrity and the beliefs of the sponsor of this bill and those who support it, and I do not question his motives for the bill, but we differ in our opinions.

I see this bill as a step backwards.
I see this bill filled with unintended consequences.
I see this bill being used as a vehicle for extremists to hide behind the words “religious freedom” as a way to circumvent our anti-discriminate laws.
And I see this bill being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act.

So why do people feel we need this law?

    • One of the biggest reasons we uncovered during the public hearing on this bill was that people did not know their rights under current Maine law. For example: A woman said she was not allowed to wear a cross necklace at work, while others wore necklaces. Yes, she was discriminated against, because she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Another said their child was not allowed to bring a Bible to school. Yes, they were discriminated against, because again she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Children can bring a Bible or other religious book to school. It is school organized religion, or someone forcing their religion on another, in school that is prohibited. This RFRA bill will not give them anything they don’t already have for protections. People need to know their rights.

    • Another example, was the South Bristol Elementary School boat launching ceremony. This boat launching had been done for 18 years, and each time a pastor was asked to recite a blessing, asking for safe passage of the boats that the students built. In 2013, they did not conduct the blessing. Why? Because prior to the boat launching – someone complained!
    This caught the attention of a Washington based group who threatened to sue, claiming that a prayer at a public school event violated the Establishment Clause. The school backed down. Even if RFRA had been in place, the public school would not have been able to say the prayer. Again, people need to know their rights. Just because no one had complained for the past 18 years, didn’t mean they were allowed to say a prayer.

So why don’t we need this bill?

    • Religious freedom is protected in Maine under the Constitution and there was no evidence given that Maine’s existing religious protections were not working.

    • Religious freedom is explicitly protected in Maine under the Human Rights Act.

    • There are 34 religious exemptions in Maine Title 5 law that protect religious freedom – in everything from property taxes, immunization, school absences, smoking, polygraph tests, highway signs, food safety, workers compensation, prisoner’s rights, alcohol and drug counseling,- to name just a few.

    • Plus under Title 22, Health and Welfare, Maine has two statutes that protect physicians, nurses, health care workers and others from having to perform or assist in any act pertaining to an abortion.

    • Many people mistakenly believe this bill will allow the navitity scene back at City Hall or some other religious display. It does not do this, or any other specific example. It only allows a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding. You must bring action in court against the government. Which are those who make the laws.

Why now? What has happened to bring this bill forward? I don’t know, but I do know that:

    • Although the first state passed a RFRA-like statute 17 years ago, according to research from our Law Library, this bill has never been introduced before in Maine.

    • I also know that in 2012, same-sex couples won their freedom to marry by changing Maine law through the citizen initiative ballot process.

    • And also in 2012, the Affordable Health Care Act was passed by Congress and a ruling was made which required health plans to cover contraception. To date, 90 cases have been filed using state RFRA acts to challenge this one ruling under the Affordable Care Act. The Hobby Lobby case is the test case. This case is before the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on March 25. This is a case where the owner of the company is using RFRA and his religious freedom to deny contraceptive coverage for his 13,000 employees. Maine should not pass anything until this case is decided.

Since this bill was never introduced prior to 2012, it makes me wonder if this bill is really about religious freedom, or is it about trying to erode existing women’s rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard for?

We cannot use religious freedom as a vehicle to circumvent Maine’s strong anti-discrimination laws. Maine has a history of working hard to strike a balance between religious freedom rights and the right to equal protection under the law. We have a strong Human Rights Commission to uphold the Human Rights Act and we have strong Maine case law based on well-defined facts.

There are over 10,000 religious denominations in the world, with 50 to 100 known ones in Maine. According to survey results in the Portland Press Herald, 70.8% of Maine people responded that they do not identify themselves with any particular religion. If we pass this bill what happens to their rights?

I would like to close by reading an email that I received yesterday urging me to defeat this bill. It says:

    “As a Christian minister, I’m offended when religion –any religion— is used as an excuse to deprive others of their rights as human beings. We need to send a message to those who would do so, that in the State of Maine, legalized bigotry will not be tolerated.”

Supporters of the bill have not demonstrated any factual problems with our current laws. Please follow the bi-partisan Majority Report and vote ought not to pass on LD 1428.

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(Aug 2013 Review) Governor LePage (Video): Support of the Transportation Bond Supports Economic Stability and Jobs

Posted on February 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

(Originally posted 12 Aug 2013) Here we go again- Governor LePage is gonna get all bothered if he doesn’t get his way! Check out the latest “Blusta Outta Augusta”

      Governor LePage: Support of the Transportation Bond Supports Economic Stability and Jobs

    The growing debate over whether the Legislature should move quickly to pass a transportation bond comes down to one thing – jobs.

    As your Governor, I want Mainers to have good-paying jobs, and I want businesses to have the support to expand in our great State.

    As lawmakers examine nearly a billion dollars of bond projects, our Administration is asking for just one bond to go to voters this November.

    Our Administration, in March, proposed a $100 million transportation bond, which allows the Maine Department of Transportation to plan projects for the next three years.

    It provides $81 million for improvement to highways and bridges, and it provides job stability to those in the construction industry, where more than 8,000 jobs have been lost since 2006.

    We designate another $19 million for improvements to multimodal facilities that would support projects, such as major development on the Portland waterfront, as well as preserving rail connections for Maine businesses.

    Our roads and ports continue to be a focus of economic opportunity that helps create jobs. But the federal government has flat funded transportation projects, and vehicles that are more fuel-efficient are generating less revenue in fuel taxes. With those decreases in revenue, this bond is needed now.

    Even with the approval of $100 million bond, Maine’s highway and bridge programs are still facing a funding shortfall.

    Democratic leadership so far has failed to act, and timing is critical. The Secretary of State’s Office needs bonds approved for the November ballot by the middle of August. The early deadline ensures our military troops overseas receive an opportunity to vote – surely a right our uniformed men and women deserve.

    With strong bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans alike, there should be no hold up on this transportation bond. There will be time in January to continue the bond debate for other projects.

    Once again, we are at a crossroads. Democrats have a choice. They can do the right thing by supporting economic development and jobs or they can delay again.

    The time to act is now and Mainers are depending on us.

Someone ought to tell the Governor to wait a second- he’s not fooling ANYONE. Back when he first proposed his transportation bond package, folks could smell a rat- and LePage admitted himself who that rat was:

    During a State House news conference Thursday morning, LePage admitted that he’s holding $105 million in bonds already approved by voters “hostage” to his hospital debt proposal. Those bonds include $51.5 million for transportation projects.

    “I’ll admit it. It’s the only way I can get anything done upstairs, is, you’ve got to threaten them,” LePage said. “They won’t get it done unless I force it. If I release those bonds today, the hospitals won’t get paid this year, and that’s a fact.”

Why, it’s as if LePage forgot when he all but told Skowhegan and House Asst Majority Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe to, as Gerald at Dirigo Blue put it, “go pound sand”… while helping Livermore Falls.

But McCabe has had the Governor’s number for years…

    jeff mccabe

    “I represent Skowhegan in the Maine Legislature. Our community was slated to receive 400,000 dollars thanks to a downtown improvement program funded by the bond package voters passed in 2009.

    Voters knew that it’s a good time to make these strategic investments. Interest rates are low, Maine is in good shape to bond, and the program supports local jobs and helps communities improve their downtowns, where local businesses thrive.

    Skowhegan’s plan was approved. The town signed contracts with the state, hired engineers and started renovations. We have spent nearly 40,000 dollars, and local businesses have raised more than half a million dollars to match the grant.

    So you can imagine our shock when Governor LePage went back on the state’s promise to help us fund our project on schedule. He told us that he’s holding the money, and he can stall on issuing the bonds for as long as five years if he wants to.

    Nearly a dozen other towns, like Eastport, Monmouth, Rockland and Winthrop all qualified for funds to redevelop their downtowns and create new local jobs. We were all ready to go, and we all got the same message from Governor LePage – we’ll get the money when he feels like it.”

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