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Maine Senate Passes Bill To Divest State Retirement System From Fossil Fuels, Prisons

Coal is piled up at the Gallatin Fossil Plant in Gallatin, Tenn.
Mark Humphrey
Coal is piled up at the Gallatin Fossil Plant in Gallatin, Tenn.

The Maine Senate has given final approval to legislation that would require the Maine Public Employees Retirement system to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies, and privately owned prisons. Lawmakers rejected arguments that the move would be unconstitutional.

One measure would require the retirement system to divest itself of interest in companies that own or manage fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas. The second measure would require the system to divest itself of any interest in companies that own or operate private prisons. Republican Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford argued that the retirement system is constitutionally barred from taking direction on investments from the legislature.

“I have heard like many of you from a large number of constituents and stakeholders who have been led to believe these bills do something that they do not do,” Bennett says.

Bennet says the state constitution requires the retirement system to invest only on the basis of what provides the greatest return. Supporters of the bills argue it is good policy to get out of fossil fuel investments, and private prisons. They say the bills are crafted so they do not violate the constitution.

“Do LD's 99 and 319 if enacted in their current form as engrossed, requires Maine PERS to divest of any asset? The answer, under the Maine Constitution, she writes, Maine PERS cannot be required to divest,” says Bennett, citing the letter from MePERS Executive Director Sand Matheson.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.