AUGUSTA – The fallout from last year’s bitter bear-baiting referendum trickled into the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee Wednesday, as lawmakers took testimony on a bill restricting how signatures are gathered for ballot initiatives.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a pro-hunting group that played a leading role in opposing the referendum, drafted L.D. 176, which would make it harder for out-of-staters to participate in the signature gathering process to put a question on the ballot. The bill could affect future referendums, including another bear-baiting questions, because some campaigns depend on organizations that specialize in signature collection.
The Humane Society of the United States, a national group that bankrolled the bear-baiting campaign, opposes the bill. So does the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which argued that the proposal restricts the constitutional right to political speech.
Wayne Pacelle, the society’s CEO, would not specify in a phone interview Wednesday when the organization might attempt another referendum on bear hunting practices.
Maine is one of at least 20 states that allow its citizens to use ballot question process to change, repeal or enact laws. A provision in the Maine constitution requires that those who circulate petitions to gather signatures be Maine residents. However, over the years campaigns have used nonresidents to witness, and in some instances, play an active role, in the process, according to David Trahan, executive director of the sportsman’s group. Trahan said Wednesday that the humane society exploited the loophole in a “shady, if not illegal” way while gathering signatures in 2013.