AUGUSTA, Maine — Personal information from concealed weapons permits will be kept from the public until the end of April after passage of an emergency bill that was rushed through the Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday.
The bill exempts information about concealed weapons permit holders from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act while lawmakers debate another bill that would make that information private permanently.
“I applaud the Legislature for expediting this matter,” LePage said Tuesday afternoon in a press release. “Now the debate can continue in the Legislature based on the merits of the bill while ensuring safety for all Mainers.”
On Friday, LePage proposed the temporary ban on releasing information about concealed weapons permit holders. Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, co-sponsored the emergency legislation.
The Senate passed LD 576 by a vote of 33-0 after it was passed in the House of Representatives just minutes earlier by a vote of 129-11. Two senators and 11 representatives did not vote.
The bill required passage by two-thirds votes in both chambers to be enacted on an emergency basis. It took effect immediately upon LePage’s signature.
The Senate amended the bill in a way that preserves access to the information by law enforcement officers. Another amendment, proposed in the House by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, would have expanded the exemption to business licenses, hunting licenses and fishing license. It failed by a wide margin. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Brian L. Jones, D-Freedom, said they supported the concept of the bill but not the procedure used to pass it, which unlike most pieces of legislation did not include any chance for the public to weigh in.
“This is not an emergency in the context of the Maine State Constitution,” said Jones during debate on the House floor. “This is a political emergency.”
The bill results in part from concerns raised by Republican lawmakers and gun rights advocates after the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday filed Freedom of Access Act requests to law enforcement agencies and municipalities seeking information about concealed weapons permits holders. In its written request, the BDN stated that the newspaper did not intend to publish personal information about permit holders. On Friday, the newspaper rescinded its FOAA request.
Democratic and Republican legislators who supported the emergency measure, which was enacted without public hearing, argued that it will give lawmakers time to consider proposed legislation dealing with gun control and gun rights, including a proposal by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, that would would make personal and identifying information of concealed weapons permit holders confidential.
The bill passed with little opposition in the Senate. A few House members spoke against what they perceived to be a rushed process used to enact LD 756, but they were a distinct minority.
“Today’s vote gives lawmakers breathing room to have a deliberate and thorough conversation about privacy and firearms without the pressure of a media and political storm,” McCabe said in a statement.
However, Maine’s Majority, a liberal advocacy group that launched an online petition drive Monday to protest LD 576 as an infringement on First Amendment rights and the public’s right to see information held by government entities, faulted the bill for being inconsistent.
“It doesn’t seem right to exempt one group of Mainers from the Freedom of Access Act without offering the same privilege to everyone,” Chris Korzen of Maine’s Majority said in a release Tuesday. “Despite today’s action, holders of hunting, and business licenses — as well as state employees — can still have their personal information revealed under the act.”
As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the online petition drive had collected just less than 1,600 names.
Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau said in a press release that he has never seen an issue generate such a passionate response from constituents.
“I think people recognize that this is a common sense measure that needs to be taken immediately to protect gun owners and non-owners alike,” said Thibodeau.
Assistant Republican Leader Roger Katz agreed and compared the action of the Legislature on Tuesday to what a court might do with a temporary restraining order.
“We may well be protecting innocent lives here,” said Katz.