AUGUSTA — A bill that will require the Legislature to assess the racial impact of pending legislation was signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday.

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, sponsor of the bill that will create a process to review all legislation for potential impacts on historically disadvantaged populations. 2016 photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The bill, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, calls for creating a process to review all legislation for potential impacts on historically disadvantaged populations. Legislative committees would have the authority to request and receive data needed to assess potential impacts from state departments and agencies.

Talbot Ross, one of only three Black people in the 186-member Legislature and the first Black woman to serve in a leadership role, introduced the bill earlier this year. She called it “the first step in recognizing that many of our laws have produced disproportionate outcomes for generations of Black and Indigenous populations in Maine.”

In a prepared statement, Mills thanked Talbot Ross for bringing the bill forward.

“Understanding the impact of legislation on Maine’s historically disadvantaged populations is important work as we seek to address inequities and ensure equality of opportunity in our state,” Mills said.

Talbot Ross said the bill is the first of its kind for the U.S.

“This legislation is the culmination of work that has taken place for years throughout our long fight for equity and justice. It is a powerful tool to enact laws that consider the impact on populations that experience disproportionate outcomes,” Talbot Ross said in a prepared statement. “I hope our work here in Maine will inspire other states to pass similar legislation. Last summer, when we took to the streets to march for Black lives, there was a recognition that that alone wasn’t enough to interrupt systemic racism.

“However, those marches gave us the momentum to pass this groundbreaking bill. I want to thank Gov. Mills for signing it into law and everyone who has lent their voice to this cause.”

Other State House leaders also praised the new law.

“This is landmark legislation for Maine,” said House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford. “I see this as an opportunity for our state to incorporate the best possible evidence into our lawmaking. This is a significant step toward advancing racial justice in Maine.”

The Legislature’s governing body, the Legislative Council, which includes House and Senate presiding officers and majority and minority leaders, will now begin studying how to implement a system for preparing racial impact statements. Under the new law, the study will be completed no later than Nov. 1 and the pilot project started no later than Dec. 1.

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