Like John Christie (“Closed door: Legislators conducting public business in private despite state’s open meeting law,” June 10), the League of Women Voters of Maine is concerned about closed meetings at the State House, and we applaud coverage of the issue.

Volunteers from the League attend public hearings and legislative work sessions nearly every week during the legislative session, and this year (not for the first time) we noticed committees holding closed-door meetings despite the 1975 Maine Freedom of Access law.

In March, we contacted the attorney general’s office with questions about the legality of “corner caucuses.” We have yet to receive an answer. Whether legal or not, the practice is a breach of integrity in our legislative process and undermines transparency in government.

We are fortunate to live in a state where every bill gets a public hearing. Maine residents travel from all corners of the state for the opportunity to voice their opinions. It’s refreshing when a legislator proffers a candid question or comment because when this happens, discussion among committee members reflects their thinking and priorities.

Possibly these caucuses provide a way for experienced legislators to coach newer members of their party or to relay instructions for leadership. Even so, what’s being said in these meetings that couldn’t be said openly for all to hear? When committees break up into corner caucuses, these “backroom” discussions circumvent the process of civic participation and undermine public understanding of the legislative process.

The Maine Freedom of Access law was designed to enhance transparency in the legislative system, allowing residents full participation in the process. We call upon committee chairmen and legislative leaders to end this practice. Whether it’s strictly legal or not, it’s wrong and contrary to the spirit of the law and the public interest.

Helen Hanlon

Member, board of directors

League of Women Voters of Maine

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