June 22, 2018
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Bill would loosen gun laws for state workers in Maine

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow state employees to bring guns to their workplace as long as they have a concealed weapons permit and keep the firearm locked in their vehicle and out of sight.

LD 1603, sponsored by Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon Falls, was modeled after a contentious bill passed last session that gave similar rights to private sector employees.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on the new bill Monday, but the committee is not expected to vote on it until next month.

No one spoke in favor of the bill, although the National Rifle Association of America submitted written testimony in support.

“When the state allows employees to park on their property, the property rights of the state should not negate the constitutional right of self-defense for their employees,” the NRA letter read.

Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the Senate chairman of the criminal justice committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the bill’s intent is simply to give state employees the same rights as private sector employees.

A handful of people spoke in opposition Monday, including Bill Harwood, representing Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.

“It’s unfortunate that this bill is here, coming on the heels of the controversial bill last spring,” he said. “There is no compelling reason for these employees to have guns at work in their car.”

Peter Gore, vice president of government relations for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said he has spoken to many employers since last year’s bill, LD 35, passed and all have expressed concerns.

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, asked Gore if any employees had actually been less safe since the law went into effect instead of just feeling less safe.

Gore replied: “No, but they are waiting.”

Rep. Stephen Hanley, D-Gardiner, told Gore he wasn’t interested in reliving the debate over LD 35.

Last spring, after heated debate, the House and Senate passed the bill that would prohibit employers from banning guns at workplaces.

John Peters, president of Downeast Energy Corp. in Brunswick, also referenced LD 35 during his testimony in opposition to LD 1603.

Peters said his company instituted a no-guns-at-work policy about 16 years ago when one of his employees was shot and killed on site.

“LD 35 took away our ability to control what happens on our property,” he said, adding that the law shouldn’t be expanded so soon.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he worried about passing a one-size-fits-all bill for all state employers. For instance, he said, there are correctional facilities in Maine that have no barriers between parking lots and where inmates are housed.

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