Our ballot referendum process desperately needs reform. Well-financed out-of-state groups have taken over, finding it easy to get their bad ideas on our ballot.

But here’s the good news — there is an easy fix for us.

I worked on quite a few referendum campaigns, all generated by real grassroots efforts and Maine organizations. So here are my suggestions.

Let’s return this process to the people of Maine, and make sure ballot measures come from the grassroots. To do this, we should require a percentage of the required signatures to come from each county, based on that county’s percentage of our population. Right now, you can collect all of your signatures in Portland and other southern Maine cities.

And let’s prohibit paying signature gatherers, to assure that the proposal is truly a grassroots, from-the-people-of-Maine initiative. This will shut out those wealthy out-of-state groups and individuals.

The Legislature is considering other, less-comprehensive reforms. But they would not return this important process to the people. For example, one would forbid ballot measures that would raise taxes or fees.

However, there is no need to limit the initiatives available to the people of Maine, if they go with my suggestions.

I hope you will talk with your local legislators about this. The legislative process would be much improved if you participated more often. I know it is tough to find out what is going on, but you can let your legislators know what issues interest you, and ask them to keep you informed about those issues. There is also a lot of information on the Legislature’s website, including details of all bills and committee hearing and work session schedules.

If there is an issue that is very important to you, try to get to the hearing and work session on that bill and testify. It always surprised me to encounter people at hearings who were very nervous about testifying —there’s no need. Legislators love to hear from real people, as opposed to those of us who are lobbyists; you will be welcomed and respected there.

And if you can’t get to a hearing, you can submit (by email or other ways) your written testimony on a bill to the committee clerk, and it will be copied and distributed to all committee members.

There’s another bill I hope might interest you. Rep. Bill Pluecker of Warren has introduced a bill to require commercial food producers with a retail location to provide upon request a list of ingredients of each food and beverage item offered for sale at the retail location.

I have a 15-year-old grandson with severe allergies, and it’s a nightmare for him to buy food anywhere, because he can’t get accurate information about ingredients. And I know quite a few other people who have allergies to food items who have simply given up eating out.

Rep. Pluecker’s bill is something food producers should be willing to do for their customers — and it will actually increase their sales.

Of course, much of my focus this session is on fish and wildlife bills, and I’m especially impressed with the initiatives already launched by our new fish and wildlife commissioner, Judy Camuso, from a significant increase in information provided to the public to reorganization of the fisheries division.

The Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, whose House chairwoman is Rep. Catherine Nadeau of Winslow, is a committee you’ll want to follow if you love fish, wildlife and the Maine outdoors — and isn’t that all of us?

Just select that committee on the Legislature’s website to stay up-to-date on the committee’s work. And if Rep. Nadeau represents you, let her know of your interest — she is very responsive to requests from her constituents and others.

It’s going to take the participation of all of us to make sure our legislators know we expect them to be civil to and respectful of each other, and to work together on our behalf. We do not want the ugliness in our nation’s capital to make its way to Augusta.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins described it well in a recent news story when she said, “I have never seen it as bad as it is now in all the years that I have been privileged to serve in the Senate. I think it is a problem for our country.” Boy, you got that right Susan.

And your active participation at the Legislature can assure that that won’t happen here.

 

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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