June 20, 2018
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Proposal to create online Legislature clicks with lawmakers

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to study the possibility of conducting legislative business online sailed through its first test since being introduced Monday when it won unanimous support of a legislative committee.

LD 855, a Resolve to Create a Study Group to Research the Possibility of a Virtual Legislature, would set up a 13-person committee to explore whether legislators, and perhaps constituents, could participate in hearings in Augusta from anywhere through the use of the Internet.

The original bill called for the Task Force to Study Issues Associated with Implementation of a Virtual Legislature to report its findings by December of this year. However, members of the State and Local Government Committee opted to push that deadline back a year amid several amendments they made to the bill.

During hearings on the proposal earlier this month, several people testified in favor and no one registered opposition. Proponents’ arguments centered mostly around convenience and the money that holding hearings and legislative sessions online would save individuals and the state.

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, the committee’s House chairwoman, supported an “ought to pass” motion for the bill but said she wasn’t sure how she’ll vote when it gets to the full Legislature.

“Quite honestly, I like the interaction one on one,” she said. “On the other hand, I do have some concerns about individuals not being present, recognizing that there are long distances involved. … I do think it’s worthwhile studying this.”

The fiscal note on the bill deals only with the study group and not with the full cost of implementing a virtual Legislature. It estimates that the study would cost about $4,500, which is almost half the $10,000 that Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal allocates for legislative studies in fiscal year 2013-14. Part of the task force’s directive would be estimating the cost of putting the technology in place to make virtual legislative work possible.

The committee voted unanimously in favor of the bill with a few amendments. According to lawmakers, Hawaii is the only state that allows some online legislative activities.

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