State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, watches the proceedings as the Maine Legislature works at the Augusta Civic Center, Wednesday, Dec 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine lawmakers will consider legislation that would create data-driven tools to analyze the racial impacts of proposed state laws or amendments.

Sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, the assistant majority leader in the House, the bill aims to reduce systemic racism in state policy and minimize adverse effects on Maine’s historically disadvantaged racial groups.

L.D. 2, An Act To Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process, is the first step in recognizing that many of our laws have produced disproportionate outcomes for generations of Black and Indigenous populations in Maine,” Ross said. “To disrupt this historical pattern, legislators must be intentional in factoring in race throughout the development, review and adoption of public policy.”

Racial impact statements are a tool for lawmakers to assess potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. The bill would create a nonpartisan agency that would research and recommend racial impact data for policies taken up by the Legislative Council in areas such as wages, housing, education, criminal justice and health outcomes, Ross said.

Researchers in the state have collected data on how policies adversely affect Black, Indigenous and other people of color that are not being used in the legislative process, Ross said.

“There’s all this information that’s out there that legislators don’t even know is available until they ask for it,” said James Myall, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy who sits on the state’s commission on racial, Indigenous and tribal populations.

In a press conference Wednesday, Myall recalled the need for such information surfacing several times during the LePage administration, which made cuts to safety net programs like Medicaid.

“I was in several hearings with legislators that asked, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services to tell them what the racial impact of [the cuts] would be, and if it would primarily impact low-income Black and brown families,” Myall said.

“The department either couldn’t or didn’t get that information,” Myall said.

Krystal Williams of the Portland law firm Providential Group convened other Maine lawyers last summer to discuss ways to combat systemic racism in the state. She sees the legislation as a “much-needed step” to address systemic racism.

“Race-neutral legislation, no matter how well intentioned, can and does produce disparate outcomes,” Williams said.

Seven U.S. states currently use racial impact statements in their legislative process, and Maine joins another roughly half dozen reportedly considering it.

The state must ensure laws do right by Indigenous Mainers and people of color, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, said.

“We don’t pass spending bills without first determining the fiscal impact. We shouldn’t pass legislation without assessing the impact policies have on historically marginalized Maine people.”