AUGUSTA, Maine — Changes to the criminal justice and education systems and providing for more basic needs and rights are among the top racial equity issues that Maine policymakers should focus on, a state commission said Monday.
The Permanent Commission on the State of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations has been working for weeks to boil down more than 400 bills left in limbo from the coronavirus-shortened 2020 session after sustained protests against police brutality and the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the disparities faced by Black people and people of color.
The measures are unlikely to see traction this year, as the chances of a special session are increasingly slim as the year approaches its end. The recommendations could serve as a launch pad for next year’s session.
Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has been accused by immigrant community leaders as failing to address the health care inequalities that have caused Black Mainers to contract the virus at disproportionate rates.
The Mills administration has made efforts to bridge that gap through expanded testing, broadening test coverage under MaineCare and providing psychological support through a crisis line. Mills also gave the commission additional funding to complete their work.
The report acknowledges some of those efforts but says the commission has not “taken a close look at the ways in which all systems need to be changed to prevent future generations from confronting the same inequities.”
Recommendations touched on revisions to the state’s bail code and efforts to better reintegrate prisoners into society. Education disparities could be addressed through universal preschool programs and changes to how the state tracks the use of restraint and seclusion in public schools.
Bills looking to change Maine’s relationship with the four Wabanaki tribes were also highlighted. Legislation aiming to boost access to fruits and vegetables and how the state sets aside federal block grants would help communities that face higher levels of poverty.
Bills were divided into tiers based on how easy they would be to implement and their level of impact, according to the report.