Maine lawmakers are eyeing new rules for placeholder bills that are routinely proposed with only a vague title and summary of intent – a practice that’s being increasingly used to unveil ambitious bills late in the Legislature’s session with little public notice or transparency.

Legislators from both parties acknowledged the need for reform last week, both in floor speeches and in committee deliberations, after the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram reported a significant increase in the practice and how it reduces transparency and fuels public mistrust, especially when dealing with divisive issues in what is already a heated political environment.

An analysis by the Press Herald found that lawmakers submitted about 250 concept bills this session, which was a 25% increase over the previous Legislature and a fourfold increase over the roughly 60 concept bills submitted about 20 years ago. About 11% of all bills introduced in the current Legislature were concept bills, compared to 5% of the bills introduced in the 2015-16 Legislature.

The issue exploded into public view earlier this month with a last-minute, 22-page bill to protect health care providers who deliver abortion and gender-affirming care from “hostile” litigation from out of state. The bill had a vague title, “An Act Regarding Health Care in the State,” and the bill summary only said, “This bill would enact provisions of law regarding health care in the state.”

Rep. Josh Morris, R-Turner, who serves on the committee that reviewed the bill, blasted the process ahead of Thursday’s party-line vote to advance the bill as “shameful” and putting opponents at a disadvantage.

“If you look at the website, it’s not available to the public,” Morris said. “The public cannot access this language.” 


Neither a detailed summary nor the actual bill text was readily available to members of the public prior to the committee vote, unless they happened to be signed up for email alerts through what is typically a lower-profile committee that deals with highly technical subject matters. And even then, details were only released to registered “interested parties” less than a week before the hearing.

“The proponents certainly were prepared for the public hearing and any issues or things that were raised,” Morris said. “The people who opposed this only had three or four days based on getting the language.”

The lack of widely available bill language may have contributed to misperceptions about the proposal’s impact, with opponents raising fears that it protects criminals who kidnap children and bring them to the state for forced sex changes, when the bill only protects in-state health care professionals who are providing legally protected health care services that conform to widely accepted standards of care in the medical community.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said she is working with the executive director of the Legislature to draft new rules on concept bills. She did not elaborate at Thursday’s meeting and could not be reached on Friday for additional details.

Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, file

Perry previously told the Press Herald that, despite serving 16 years in the Legislature, she didn’t know that the public could not access details of concept drafts until after the committee votes. She said she worked with Planned Parenthood to draft the bill, L.D. 227.

“I do agree we need to do something about concept drafts and how they occur,” Perry told members of the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. “I am working with the executive director of the Legislature to actually introduce some rules around concept drafts. This was never my intent to make this secret. I made assumptions I shouldn’t have made, and I will take full responsibility for that.”


Rep. Poppy Arford, D-Brunswick, who also serves on the committee, said members agreed new rules are needed to increase transparency.

“We all agree that was not fair to everybody involved,” Arford said. “We will change it. It’s probably not going to change this month, but hopefully by the next session, something will be different.”

Legislature Executive Director Suzanne Gresser said she could not discuss whether she was working with any lawmakers on possible rule changes because discussions between lawmakers and nonpartisan staff are confidential.

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal, file

Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, has been a vocal critic of concept drafts but has so far had little success curbing their use. His resolution seeking to end the practice, except for the governor’s budget, was killed last year. A second resolution, requiring that bill language be posted online for at least one business day before a public hearing, has been pending in the Senate since Feb. 1.

Concept drafts are allowed under the joint rules adopted by the Legislature each session. Rule changes proposed before the third Friday in January can be adopted with a simple majority vote of the Legislature, while changes after that require a supermajority of two-thirds.

Not all concept drafts are the same. House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, submitted a concept bill this session to restore sovereignty to Wabanaki tribes in Maine. Although L.D. 2007 didn’t have fully drafted legal language, it did provide a nearly four-page summary outlining the bill’s goals. And that summary is readily available to the public online.


While state agencies and the governor are prohibited from submitting concept bills, there is one exception: the governor’s biennial and supplemental budgets. But even those have more transparency than most concept drafts, because those bills, such as L.D. 2214, contain a link to a webpage where the full budget documents are available for public inspection.

Frustrations over concept drafts were also expressed on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, R-Fairfield, said the number of concept drafts was just another example of the chamber’s “disrespect” for the public and lawmakers in the political minority this session. Rudnicki’s comments came the same day that the House voted on a last-minute floor amendment to a bill that she and her fellow Republicans were not aware of.

“We are here as the servants of the people, and to me, the lack of respect that’s been going on in this building this session has been just unforgivable,” said Rudnicki, who also criticized lawmakers for not starting their committee meetings on time and making the public wait.

Rep. Chris Kessler, D-South Portland, sponsored the last-minute floor amendment Rudnicki criticized. That amendment sought to correct an oversight in a law passed in the previous session by adding mobile homes to new tenant protections.

Kessler said in a floor speech that he agrees that more transparency is needed.

“We have seen in the news lately criticisms around amendments in committees – people not being able to see those things until the very last minute,” Kessler said. “And I agree that we need to have a process that’s more transparent for the public, for the members and for those who are going to be returning in the 132nd (Legislature). I encourage us to make some tweaks and get that done.”

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