AUGUSTA, Maine — An effort to close Maine’s controversial crime information-gathering center looked to be in trouble Monday evening after it cleared the Maine House of Representatives in an initial vote but failed later in the Maine Senate.
The proposal from Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, to defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center over the course of two years was born out of increased scrutiny of the program after a Maine state trooper sued the state, alleging it was illegally spying on residents. A later leak of documents detailing the center’s activities — including requests for help from outside agencies and monitoring protests against racism and police brutality — sparked further outrage. The center was the subject of legislative hearings and visits throughout last year.
The effort to close the center saw signs of early trouble during initial budget discussions, when an effort from Warren to move the so-called fusion center’s funding to substance use disorder treatment failed in the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, which she co-chairs. Her bill also received an unfavorable 9-4 vote from that panel in late May after both federal and state agencies said the center was critical to law enforcement operations.
Supporters appeared to overcome those arguments Monday, with the House voting 88-54 to pass the bill after a half-hour debate. But the bill quickly spiraled in the Senate after members there voted 29-6 to kill the bill, with 5 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford County, voting against the motion. Supporters could attempt to revive the bill, but it faces strident opposition from Gov. Janet Mills, whose administration has spoken against closing the center.
Warren made a financial argument during the House debate, saying the state should invest in public safety that benefits residents. She characterized the center as spending too much time collecting information on people exercising their First Amendment rights and said Department of Public Safety officials have been unable to prove how the center helps Maine.
“It is our job, our responsibility, to decide when not to spend our constituents’ hard-earned tax dollars on initiatives that are wasteful,” she said.
Opponents argued the center is critical to law enforcement agencies’ ability to do their jobs and that closing the center would amount to defunding the police.
“I think there are many officers out there who are frustrated, tired, questioning, disheartened by some of the things they are hearing in this building, around the state and beyond,” said Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, speaking against the proposal. “I don’t wish to be associated with that.”