May 23, 2018
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Smart consumers benefit from knowledge of law

By Russ Van ArsdaleExecutive Director Northeast Contact, Special to the BDN

Smart consumers know a little bit about a lot of things. One area where consumers could benefit from a bit more knowledge is the law.

Laws affecting consumers are changing all the time. The state and federal legislators who write the laws are generally not known for transparency; that is, if a law can be written in such a way that only lawyers understand it, that likely will be the case.

At Northeast CONTACT, we are not lawyers. We are volunteers who try to help one another. We do not give legal advice and we encourage consumers who have questions about legal issues to consult knowledgeable sources.

We are pleased to recommend the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library as a resource. A quick trip to the Library’s Web page reveals a list of topics titled, “What is Maine’s law on … ?”

Say you’re interested in getting a dog as a gift for a family member (let’s assume you’ve determined the type of dog best suited to the person, and that the recipient has the time and interest to make a pet an appropriate gift). Checking the website, you find the heading, “Dogs, loose or dangerous.”

Clicking that heading takes you to a synopsis of Maine law. You learn that it’s “unlawful for any dog … to be at large, except when used for hunting.” The citation notes the pertinent section of the law. A note explains that Maine law does not require that dogs be kept on leashes, although municipalities may pass leash laws.

If you wondered why so many large retail stores were open last Thursday on Veterans Day, it’s because of requirements in Maine law. The legalese is especially dense here, but the bottom line is that such stores must be closed only on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. It wasn’t that long ago that “Sunday sales” were a hot topic during election campaigns.

If initial research on the Library’s Web page doesn’t answer your questions, staff people are there to help. Reference librarians check for inquiries every morning, and they usually can respond to requests within three days. A quick question can be sent by e-mail from the website; for detailed inquiries, call the Library at 287-1600 or write to 43 State House Station, Augusta 04330-0043. The library is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Another great website is called HelpMELaw. It’s a joint effort of governmental and nongovernmental organizations concerned with legal issues. It’s aimed at helping lower-income Mainers get legal advice in a cost-effective manner.

Maine’s public libraries also are getting involved. This year, Maine’s Justice Action Group began training public library staffers to help their patrons use the self-help tools available through HelpMELaw.

The authors of HelpMELaw invite feedback from users, so they can find out whether improvements are needed in the types of information and way it is offered. The site address is

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to, or e-mail at

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