AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee approved a bill on Monday that would allow state employees to bring guns to their workplace, provided 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 last year’s bill, LD 35, which drew spirited debate before it passed in the House and Senate and became law. That bill allowed private sector employees with concealed weapons permits to bring guns to their workplace if they were left in the car.
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the Senate chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the new bill’s intent is simply to give state employees the same rights as private sector employees.
The measure was approved by the committee on a 7-5 vote.
Five Democrats on the committee voted against the bill. They also indicated in their minority report that they not only hope to kill that bill but also overturn last year’s legislation.
The bill now goes to the House and Senate for debate and votes.
During a public hearing late last month, a handful of people spoke in opposition, 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, also opposed the bill on behalf of many employers he’s spoken to since last year’s bill, LD 35, passed.
Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said they hope once LD 1603 comes to the floor, it will be struck down, along with LD 35. They echoed what Gore said about business owners reporting that allowing employees to bring weapons to work premises make other employees feel less safe.
“Actually, the vote was very close last year and I think the the business community was not as engaged as it wished it had been and it took them by surprise,” Haskell said.
No one spoke in favor of the bill at last month’s hearing, but 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.