Commission Recommends Putting Racial Equity 'At The Heart' Of Maine Lawmaking

Sep 15, 2020

A state commission is urging Maine lawmakers to pass more than two dozen bills aimed at easing racial disparities in Maine, and to consider impacts on racial equity when crafting future legislation.

In a report issued Monday, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations says 26 bills pending in the Maine Legislature could help close gaps in health, income, education and incarceration rates, among others, and urges lawmakers to pass them if they return for a special session.

“For far too long, we have allowed our laws to uphold a system that produces disproportionate outcomes for racial, Indigenous, and Maine tribal populations,” says commission Chair Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, a Democratic state lawmaker from Portland, in a statement. “Legislation alone will not end these disparities, but it plays a critical role.”

Talbot Ross says Maine lawmakers should put racial equity and justice "at the heart" of legislative deliberations.

Later in an interview she said now is the time to act. “Mainers are responding, just as all Americans are, to the public murders of both Brianna Taylor and George Floyd,” she said.

She said racial disparities are evident in Maine, with black Mainers six times more likely to be jailed and 20 times more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus. The panel wants the Legislature to establish a process that looks at every piece of legislation through the lens of racial disparity.   

“We are proclaiming that we will not allow our lawmaking to continue to feed a system of oppression,” says Winthrop Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman, in a statement. Hickman was one of 55 Maine lawmakers involved in crafting the report. “This report is a guide to changing how Maine legislates," he says, "and if its recommendations are followed, it’s a path to creating equity for all who call Maine home.”

Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill that created the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations in 2019. It includes representatives of Maine’s tribes, organized labor, faith-based organizations and other stakeholders. 

Originally published at 11:00 a.m. Sept. 14, 2020.

Updated at 1.27 p.m. Sept. 14, 2020.