AUGUSTA — Journalists and other open-government advocates are criticizing a proposal by the LePage administration to shield the governor’s working paper from Maine’s public right-to-know law.

The bill, LD 1805, would create a new exemption in the state Freedom of Access Act. Any reports, papers or memos developed by the Governor’s Office for the purpose of a proposal or report to the Legislature would be considered confidential until they are publicly distributed or the end of the legislative session for which they were prepared.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for this afternoon before the Judiciary Committee. Members of the Maine Freedom of Access Coalition held a news conference at the State House to oppose the bill, saying LePage should keep his campaign promise to increase transparency in state government.

“This law is so broad and so vague that the governor could keep virtually anything secret” as long as it might lead to a legislative proposal, said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

Mal Leary, an Augusta-based journalist and vice president of the Maine Freedom of Access Coalition, said the bill would make Maine one of just a few states with a special open-records exemption for their governors. The law already includes a list of exemptions for records that should remain confidential, he said.

The exemption proposed for the Governor’s Office is parallel to an exemption that already exists for legislators’ working papers.

While critics of the bill say the Governor’s Office is more powerful and needs more transparency than an individual legislator, the Governor’s Office has argued that the double standard is unfair.

“If the Legislature would like to abide by the same rules as the executive branch the governor would be happy to consider that too,” said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. LePage.

Gov. LePage also has said the number of records requests, including from advocacy groups, is an undue burden on the office.

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