Folks often may hear about controversy in legislative committees. The reality, however, is that teamwork, collaboration and bipartisan work takes place all the time but goes unnoticed. In fact, committees reached unanimous decisions nearly three-quarters of the time in the past session.

The hard work of committees has the potential to lead to positive change for Maine people and businesses. It’s work that is informed by the participation of stakeholders, the public and experts from the executive branch, which is charged with administering the laws passed by the legislators sent to Augusta to do the work of the people.

So it seemed important to point out that this Friday the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee is scheduled to meet and take up items that have the potential to have a great impact on our state. The panel will discuss outcome-based forestry practices that would help the long-term sustainability of the industry as well as the creation of a merged Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Department.

I served two terms on the ACF Committee, and I opposed the merger until its final few votes last session. At that time, I was assured by members of the LePage administration that work would continue and that the administration would provide updates to the committee.

It turns out that the merger has been a burden and possibly even too much to handle for those trying to manage it. The merger is a key issue for Mainers whose livelihoods rely on our natural resources based economy, one that deals with the allocation of state resources and possible new efficiencies.

Making matters more difficult is Gov. Paul LePage’s policy of providing only written updates to the ACF Committee. It seems that the governor is concerned that his commissioners are too busy to meet in public with the people’s representatives — or to speak on microphone so the public can listen to the conversation between the administration and executive branches.

To best do the people’s work, committees need that dynamic conversation with those invited to appear before them. But the LePage gag order is preventing that necessary dialogue from taking place.

I think back to when I stood before the Maine House to support the merger. I stated that work would continue and the regular updates would be part of the process. But now, I do not see the administration holding up its end of the agreement.

The administration’s gag order also threatens a conversation of great interest to forestry companies, conservation groups and the public across the state. In this case, it is hindering Maine’s progress with outcome-based forestry. Under this model, science-based voluntary processes are used with an eye toward determining how Maine can ensure the long-term sustainability of its forestry products industry, using agreed-upon economic, environmental and social outcomes as benchmarks. It serves as an alternative to prescriptive regulation and provides landowners the space to exercise creativity and flexibility while conserving public trust resources.

So we are left scratching our heads and wondering how we can conduct the bipartisan policymaking work of the committee when the administration will not allow access to its experts. At this point, no one from the Forest Service has been cleared to come and discuss this important piece of our natural resource economy. Unless this changes, we can chalk this up as a loss for Maine business, Maine people and open government.

These political games must end. Maine deserves better.

Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is a former member of the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.

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