December 17, 2021

Legislative Alert: Legislative Racial Impact Statements Coming Soon

In the session that ended in June, the Legislature passed a bill to create a Subcommittee to Implement a Racial Impact Statement Process Pilot.  This is a subcommittee of the Legislative Council and is chaired by Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot-Ross with Speaker Ryan Fecteau, Assistant Senate Republican Leader Matt Pouliot, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Matthea Daughtry, and House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham being the other members. Danielle Fox, Director of the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis (OPLA),and Suzanne Gresser, Executive Director of the Legislature, are staffing the subcommittee.

The subcommittee met five times, with the final meeting being held on Friday, December 10th. The purpose of the subcommittee is to create a pilot program to test the feasibility of creating racial impact statements for bills before the Legislature. Director Fox provided the subcommittee with information from various other states (CO, CT, FL, IA, MD, MN, NJ, OR, VA) which have similar programs in place. Several of these states limit such statements to criminal justice, judiciary, and health and human services issues.

The group identified the need to understand the scope of such statements, the staffing required, or if outside contracts could fulfill the need, the process by which such statements would be requested or required, and when in the legislative process such statements should be provided. Talbot-Ross has made clear she would find it unacceptable to have statements only on HHS and Criminal Justice Committee bills.

Talbot-Ross also asked Fox to find information from other states about the impact of the impact statements. Do the statements change legislators support or opposition to a legislative proposal? Do the statements cause bills to be amended before passage, etc?  Fox was able to find some information from other states related to whether bills passed or failed after racial impact statements were generated, but nothing definitive in terms of the impact of the statements themselves on the final posture of the bills.

Talbot-Ross is definitely interested in these statements being available to legislators in a similar fashion to fiscal notes. She wants the statements to influence legislators before they vote in committee or in the chambers. Depending on the resources committed to this work, this could significantly slow down the progress of legislation. The subcommittee understands this, and it will be a factor in how the process is implemented.

One of the biggest concerns of the proponents of this effort is the availability of data to access the racial impacts of any particular legislative proposal. The committee feels that it is likely such data might be more available in the policy areas of education and employment in Maine, but not sure about racial data collection in other areas. Fox and Talbot-Ross met with the University of Maine system to discuss this issue and believe the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center might be helpful in identifying and gathering data. The Center has created an “Equity Framework” which Talbot-Ross believes may be helpful.

Gresser and Fox have reminded the committee that these statements will be expected to be reporting mostly quantitative data in order to remain non-partisan and less subjective as a guide to policy makers.  They made clear that legislative staff should never be asked to provide information that is subjective in nature.

Talbot-Ross asked each subcommittee member to provide 4 legislative committees which could be asked to identify a small number of bills to generate racial impact statements. Senator Daughtry suggested Education, Labor and Housing, Criminal Justice, and Environment and Natural Resources. The last was suggested as a way to get a realistic assessment of what data is available and what such a statement might produce. Talbot-Ross suggested HHS and IDEA in addition to EDU and ENR.

In subsequent meetings, it was decided to focus on the bills carried over from the 1st Session, and to contract the work out to the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations, and professional researchers and faculty within the UMaine system, at no cost to the Legislature. The researchers reviewed the carry over bills and the content available for said bills and proposed 7 bills to be considered for the pilot. The bills to be considered are all within the jurisdiction of the Health and Human Services, Judiciary, Education, or Labor and Housing Committees.

LD # Title Committee
270 An Act to Amend the Regional Adjustment Index to Ensure School Districts Do Not Receive Less than the State Average for Teacher Salaries Education and Cultural Affairs
372 An Act to Provide Children Access to Affordable Health Care Health and Human Services
1574 An Act to Ensure Support for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism with High Behavioral Needs Health and Human Services

598

1068

An Act to Prohibit Discrimination in Employment and School Based on Hair Texture or Hairstyle

OR

An Act to Restrict Weapons Pursuant to Court Order in Cases of Harassment

Judiciary

*Rep. Talbot Ross is gathering input to determine which of these two bills to include in her proposal which will be considered by the subcommittee

982 An Act to Protect against Discrimination of Public Entities Judiciary
965 An Act Concerning Nondisclosure Agreements in Employment Labor and Housing

The link above also outlines the questions that should be asked and the purpose of the impact statements.

Ultimately, on December 10th, with Speaker Fecteau, Senator Daughtry, and Assistant Majority Leader and subcommittee Chair Rachel Talbot-Ross present, the subcommittee accepted the proposal from Talbot-Ross, concerning which bills to be considered in the pilot in the upcoming legislative session, and the contracting of the work mentioned above. The resulting impact statements will be presented to the relevant committees of jurisdiction in early February.

The subcommittee was originally expected to submit a report to Legislative Council by November 1st, 2021, and Legislative Council was expected to enact a policy to proceed with a pilot by December 1st, 2021. However, given that the subcommittee could not finalize its work until December, and the Legislative Council cancelled their December meeting the latter will not happen until January. The final report from the subcommittee will be submitted to the Legislative Council and is expected to be available to the public before the end of the month.

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