An attempt to have the Maine Legislature urge Congress to label members of neo-Nazi groups as terrorists was blocked Thursday by Republicans on a panel of legislative leaders.

The resolve, sponsored by Rep. Maureen Terry, D-Gorham, asks Congress to make the change in light of the August 2017 white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left a woman dead and dozens injured when a car rammed a crowd of protesters. The resolve is effectively dead following Thursday’s partisan 5-5 Legislative Council vote.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said Thursday evening that he and the other Republican legislative leaders thought Terry’s proposed language went too far because it discusses giving law enforcement agencies “tools that they need to investigate, detain, arrest and prosecute these groups for the crimes they commit or plan to commit as acts of terrorism.”

Thibodeau called that concept a “creepy” government overreach.

“Everybody hates what transpired down in Virginia, but we’ve got to be careful we don’t become the thought police,” Thibodeau said. “It’s important that we send the right message that that kind of behavior is un-American, but we don’t have to have language like that to send that message.”

Thibodeau said he and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, have agreed to present a joint resolution to the House and Senate next week that is similar to a congressional resolve that passed in September of last year, which generally condemns the events in Virginia. He said the intention behind going that route was to avoid having the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House end up in disagreement.

Mary Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for Gideon, confirmed Thursday night that a joint order by Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, has been submitted.

“Speaker Gideon supported Rep. Terry’s proposal and condemns the despicable actions of white supremacists in the strongest language possible,” Casale said in a written statement.

However, Thibodeau and the other Republican leaders on the panel — Sens. Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and Amy Volk of Scarborough, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester — took heat Thursday from Democrats.

“Here we are again,” Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, who also serves on the Legislative Council, wrote on Twitter. “Dems ready to vote for a resolution condemning neo-Nazis but Senate Prez Thibodeau really struggles with decision.”

Thursday’s debate came amid heightened focus on white supremacist activity in Maine. On Tuesday, the Jackman Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to fire Town Manager Tom Kawczynski for openly advocating for racial segregation and condemning Islam. The firing and Kawczysnki’s views captured national attention.

The bill came before the Legislative Council, which is made up of the Legislature’s five Republican and five Democratic leaders, because proposals filed this late in the legislative session need a majority vote of the council to move forward. In December, the panel tabled the proposal in a 5-5 vote because Thibodeau and Republicans said they wanted to carefully consider the language before sending it to the full Legislature.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.