New bill would outlaw business ties between taxpayer-funded entities and terrorist states

Posted April 22, 2013, at 4:16 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would bar government agencies in Maine from doing business with terrorist states triggered a slew of questions Monday when it was introduced to the Legislature.

Among those questions included what constitutes a terrorist state and how a local or statewide entity would know. Unanswered were questions about whether any government entities in Maine currently do business with terrorist states.

“Under current economic conditions, America and the state of Maine are working diligently to make taxpayer dollars stretch as far as they can,” said Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, who is the primary sponsor of the bill. “However, in the days following 9/11 and the recent tragedies of Boston, it is not responsible for our government to purchase from companies involved with the terrorist network. By spending our resources in those areas, we are providing economic support to parties that seek to do us harm.”

Hayes’ bill, which she said she sponsored on the behalf of constituents, specifically names municipalities in Maine, the state government, the University of Maine system, the Maine Community College system and Maine Maritime Academy as entities that would be barred from doing business with terrorist states after Jan. 1, 2014. It also requires counties and school boards to adopt policies prior to that date to adhere to the state law.

A handful of veterans’ and military organizations testified in favor of the bill.

“We believe that this legislation takes a much-needed first step in cutting the links to terrorist states,” said a coalition of military officers from several branches, according to written testimony. “When our nation is dependent on countries that support terrorists for supplies and goods, we are a nation that presents weakness and creates a path to insecurity.”

Yet the question of whether any Maine governmental entities are doing business with terrorist states — which the U.S. State Department defines as Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — was left unanswered. Hayes specified that her bill addresses business ties with those national governments themselves and not necessarily businesses in those countries.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, asked Hayes whether she is comfortable with adding more countries to the list such as Iraq and Afghanistan which are in wartime relationships with the United States.

“I’d be uncomfortable without knowing what the definition would be,” said Hayes. “We defer to the U.S. secretary of state for that. … That probably falls outside the purview of anyone who works for the state of Maine.”

Keith Herrick, president of a Winslow organization called the Heart of America and a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, said most veterans would support a measure like this one.

“If we’re going to go out and fight for the country, any avenue that we have to limit the resources those countries have is a plus for us,” said Herrick.

But some witnesses, including Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association, questioned the practicality of the bill.

“Municipalities need to be able to make purchases in a timely manner rather than trying to identify the countries on the terrorist list or the businesses engaged in activities with those countries,” said Dufour. “Being required to trace all the connections businesses have with certain countries makes the normal task of procurement more difficult.”

Dufour suggested that if the state wants to take the lead of developing and maintaining a list of banned states and organizations, municipalities would be willing to follow it.

Neither Dufour, Herrick nor Hayes said they were aware of any state or local government agencies in Maine who conduct any business dealings with terrorist states. Hayes’ bill will now go to a work session where the committee will decide on a recommendation to the full Legislature.

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