May 24, 2018
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Plan to eliminate State House security fails

Sen. Roger Katz
By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A divided Legislative Council on Monday rejected a late bill request that proposed eliminating the 15-month-old security checkpoint at the State House entrance.

The Legislative Council, made up of legislative leaders from both parties, rejected the bill request from Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta, by a 5-4 vote. As a result, the proposal can’t move forward for consideration by the full Legislature.

Katz proposed the measure because of the cost of the security checkpoint — about $200,000 annually — and what he said is a greater need for security screenings in the state’s courthouses.

“We went the first 193 years of our statehood without any screening in this building and without any real perceived need for screening in this building,” Katz said Monday. “We’re now spending $200,000 to, as I can see it, make sure that third-graders are not bringing in weapons of mass destruction with them.

“There is only so much we can do to limit mayhem caused by deranged people. It’s no more likely to happen here than across the street in the unprotected Cross Office Building, at a shopping mall, at a movie theater or at the finish line of a marathon,” he said.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin opposed the effort to eliminate the security screening, which was installed during the last legislative session. The checkpoint makes sense, he said, given the fact that bombs can be carried in backpacks and that the State House is a logical target for someone who wants to make a public statement.

“If you want something to be front-page news in Maine, you do it at the State House,” Gauvin said. “This building is looked at differently.”

All but one of the six Democrats on the council opposed allowing the bill to advance. Senate President Justin Alfond voted with the three Republican leaders who attended the meeting.

The Legislative Council on Monday also voted to let a number of other late bill requests advance to the legislative committees, including a bill sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, that would dock the pay of legislators and the governor if they can’t agree to a budget and state government shuts down as a result.

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