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Maine lawmakers tackle 2016 referendums

Gov. Paul LePage will hold a special session in Augusta, Maine, likely in October, with the objective of making an amendment to the food sovereignty law taking effect on Nov. 1. Maine lawmakers also plan to tackle two major topics from Maine’s 2016 referendums: the legalization of marijuana and the establishment of ranked-choice voting.

In June 2017, LePage signed LD 725, “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems,” shifting the regulation of local food systems at the state and federal level to their corresponding municipalities, making Maine the first in the nation to officially ratify food sovereignty legislation. This law, however, infringes on federal food safety laws. The special session has been called to amend LD 725 to keep beef and poultry managed by state officials.

Maine Question 1, 2016, “An Act to Legalize Marijuana,” had passed by 50.26 percent, even after the recount. As the exact terms have yet to be decided, Maine legislation passed LD 88, “An Act To Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act” in January, delaying commercial sale of marijuana until 2018. The newest version of the Marijuana Legalization Act bill is set for a Sept. 25 hearing.

Maine Question 5, 2016, “An Act to Establish Ranked-Choice Voting,” was the proposed solution to the spoiler effect commonly seen in Maine state elections, where one candidate would win; despite not earning the 50 percent majority of the vote, due to the votes against them being split between two or more opposing candidates. Maine citizens would rank up to six candidates in future elections for Governor, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and the Maine Senate and House of Representatives.

Despite the referendum passing by 52.12 percent on May 23, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously concluded that the ranked-choice voting system conflicts with the Maine constitution. Whether the constitution will be amended to allow the system to see use, or the ranked-choice system will be discarded in favor of the plurality voting system currently in use, remains to be seen.

As a vocal conservative whose impromptu comments and actions in office frequently draw controversy on both domestic and national levels, LePage’s opposition to both referendum questions is nothing but expected. According to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, he had signed LD 88 reluctantly, after his attempt to have the law amended to “shift primary rule- making authority to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations (BABLO) and have approximately $1.6 million appropriated for the bureau to conduct their rulemaking work,” was rejected by the Maine House of Representatives. The fact that his gubernatorial election was a product of the plurality voting system, and not majority vote, may suggest one reason for his aversion to ranked-choice voting.

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