December 06, 2019
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Maine voted to make its statutes gender neutral in 1988. Here’s why it’s still a work in progress.

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Gov. Janet Mills and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley testified to a legislative committee Thursday in favor of a bill that would replace masculine pronouns in Maine statute with gender-neutral terms.

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A new effort to make Maine statutes more gender neutral isn’t really new. Though Maine lawmakers, the governor and the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court spoke to the historic nature of a bill pushed through committee last week to make certain statutory references gender neutral, remediating masculine references in Maine law began more than 30 years ago.

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills, the state’s first female governor, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, the first woman to lead the state’s high court, testified in favor of a bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Matt Moonen, D-Portland, to make outdated statutory references to the governor and high court justices gender neutral.

Moonen’s bill initially sought to only change language referring to the governor and judicial branch, but after discovering “dozens and likely hundreds” of masculine references across Maine’s Revised Statutes, he proposed making the bill more extensive.

These he/his/him references still exist not because Maine hasn’t made efforts to make language more equitable (see the Maine Legislative Drafting Manual, page 91) but due to an aspect of law passed 31 years ago that allowed the remediation process to remain incremental rather than comprehensive.

Lawmakers in 1987 passed a bill that authorized the Revisor’s Office — the state office responsible for drafting bills and laws — to make all masculine references in statute gender neutral by replacing gendered pronouns with nouns “in order to avoid gender identification,” which most often means using titles over pronouns and gender-specific nouns or adjectives.

The bill passed 31 years ago did not retroactively apply to all statute language. Instead, it only applied to new legislation and old laws that needed to be amended, which is why some state statutes today, including the ones targeted by Moonen’s bill, still include only masculine references to gender.

A year later, in 1988, voters and lawmakers opted first with legislation sponsored by former Democratic House Majority Leader John Diamond, and then ratified through referendum, to remove male pronouns from Maine’s Constitution. This included references to the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president.

Prior to its passage in November, Rep. Donnell Carroll of Gray argued on the House floor in March of that year that the effort to remove all “gender-biased language” was to make the documents more “readable.”

“It does not in any way, shape or manner, extend rights, grant new rights or anything else to people, men, women, children, blacks, whites, gays or anyone else,” Carroll said. “It doesn’t change the meaning of the Constitution, it clarifies the Constitution.”

The question on the ballot eight months later was, “Shall the Constitution of Maine be amended to remove gender-biased language in order to clarify that the Constitution applies to all individuals?” It was approved by 56 percent of voters and went into effect later that month.

Since then, as the Revisor’s Office has worked to update outdated statutory language with each legislative session, lawmakers have continued to pass laws to inch the effort along. Portions of the criminal statute were changed to reflect gender inclusivity 2003 and 2007; masculine references to the Attorney General were altered in 2005; and in 2018, though the bill ultimately did not pass, lawmakers attempted to change “selectmen” to “selectperson.” A bill before the Legislature right now from Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, would make certain provisions in the juvenile code gender neutral.

Moonen’s bill, which now goes to votes in the House and Senate, seeks to retroactively and comprehensively change all Maine statute language to reflect gender equity — a task Suzanne Gresser, revisor of statutes, said hasn’t been done since 1964.


Pingree, Golden line up against abortion ‘gag rule’

Maine’s two Democratic U.S. representatives will highlight opposition to a currently blocked rule at a Planned Parenthood event on Monday. U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District will talk with Planned Parenthood patients at a 10 a.m. event in Portland aimed at a so-called “gag rule” put forward in March by the administration of President Donald Trump and blocked last week by a federal court.

The rule would limit what health care providers receiving federal family planning funds could tell patients about abortion services and keep them from issuing referrals for abortion. Maine Family Planning, the state’s only direct recipient of these funds, has said the rule would force 20 Maine facilities to eliminate on-site abortion services, leaving the state with three accessible providers.


Today in A-town

Lawmakers will consider bills aimed at expanding workers’ rights for loggers and beefing up the child welfare ombudsman’s position. The full Legislature is out until Tuesday, but legislative committees will be in today and the labor panel will hold hearings on four bills aimed at expanding workers rights for loggers that is supported by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, a logger by trade who got his start in politics by organizing a 1998 blockade in protest of Canadian loggers — whose health care is subsidized — working in Maine.

The far-reaching, Jackson-backed bills would allow loggers to join bargaining cooperatives like those that exist for certain farmers, mandate that mills or other industrial or commercial facilities make offers to sell their business to another entity before shutting down, create an hourly compensation system for loggers and aim to ensure fairer contracts for loggers.

Other committees will meet to take testimony on bills that would increase the statutory role of Maine’s child welfare ombudsman and the amount of funding to that office and de-organize Magalloway Plantation in western Oxford County. The voting committee will hold confirmation hearings on two of Mills’ re-nominations to the Maine Ethics Commission.


Reading list

— The companies that want to build a hydropower transmission line in western Maine have agreed to spend $15 million to improve rural broadband access. As part of a package of incentives that won the governor’s and regulators’ support for the project, Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec have a plan to allow nearby communities and other towns seeking better internet to connect with a fiber optic network that will be built along with the transmission line. The project still must gain key permits and approvals, which developers hope will happen by the end of this year.

— Administrators at another Maine college are under fire for how they responded to sexual assault complaints. In this case, four female students at Thomas College in Waterville described experiencing unwanted sexual contact and were surprised when administrators didn’t take initiative to investigate their complaints, instead leaving it up to the women to decide how to proceed.

— The new administration reversed another signature aspect of the former administration’s welfare reform policies. On Friday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would no longer require photos on electronic benefits cards used by recipients of food stamps. The change reverses a policy adopted in 2014 under former Gov. Paul LePage, allowing cardholders to choose whether to put their driver’s license photo on their EBT card.

— It’s official: Maine now will celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. On Friday, Mills signed into law a bill that will change the name of a holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October to Indienous Peoples Day. The new holiday replaces Columbus Day, which remains the recognized federal holiday on that day.


Mow better blues

After what seems like a month of rain, the sun’s return — however brief — has made the ground cover on our property go “sproing.”

I’m not so presumptuous as to call it a lawn, as it is really more a random collection of weeds, wildflowers and invasive species interspersed with an occasional tuft of grass. But I can see it growing, which means my neighbors will soon expect me to cut it to a manageable length.

I can no longer put off my annual struggle to fire up the lawnmower for a new season. In the past, it’s been an epic struggle, one in which my children learned quite a few new expletives as their father modeled the behavior of cursing inanimate objects.

Despite following most of the instructions for storing a lawnmower at the end of cutting season in fall, I always seem to encounter hugely frustrating problems in my efforts to bring the machine back from the dead the next spring. I would call it the Battle of Winterfell, but I hear that’s already been taken.

In any case, the annual battle starts with a wrestling match to get a good spark plug in place. It then advances to many failed attempts to pull the cord that is supposed to start the machine — but which really just exists to cause blisters, elicit profanities and entertain neighborhood kids. Success is marked by a big cloud of black smoke and the tenuous putt-putt-putt of the cutting machine in action.

Full of satisfaction about my triumph over technology, I will then beam with pride and forge ahead — only to mangle the blade within five minutes by hitting a rock or root brought to the surface by winter’s subterranean turmoil. Good thing I only live a mile away from the friendly lawnmower repair man. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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