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Rebecca Graham is a legislative advocate with the State and Federal Relations Department at Maine Municipal Association.
Making sausage is ugly business on the ingredient level, but it is the quality of the ingredients that make a sausage taste good. Law is no different. Constitutions are the gourmet of legal “sausage-making” and the core ingredients, or language, must be of the highest quality to support the abundance of additional flavors that can be poured into the mix.
Law is reactive for good reason. Without a clearly defined problem, prospective law limits what the legal future can deliver. Unlike legislation, only the courts decide to what extent a particular constitutional “ingredient” is included or excluded in an amendment. When language is unclear or missing, the courts look to how the term is defined in the state law, then to federal law, any previous case law, and finally in the original legislative “recipe” or intention.
Whereas legislation is nimble and can be changed easily when the language creates unintended consequences, constitutional amendments are hard stops, equivalent to a recipe that limits the chef to a specific brand of ingredient rather than a generic substitute, and it’s costly to amend.
Question 3 “The Right to Food” is a bad sausage recipe with exclusive ingredients and missing all the vital flavors at twice the cost of other recipes.
Everyone deserves food, right? Absolutely. So why would the drafters protect personal choice of food but not mention hunger, or include the human rights framework the Maine Municipal Association flagged to protect an individual right to food?
Because it appears that Question 3 isn’t about food at all, it seems to be about preemption of the regulation that governments use to strike a balance between neighbors, business and existing obligations like public health, safety and water quality. The bill’s sponsors have repeatedly stated this is the intent while also stating the amendment does not do just that.
While the language may provide some seed protections, it is nothing legislation couldn’t already provide. It could also allow your neighbor to farm Japanese knotweed, which is edible but also virally invasive and it can affect property values when it takes hold.
Your tomato plants are not targets for code enforcement officers. However, local ordinances to protect the water quality and business interests by regulating the types of chemicals that can be used in sensitive areas like organic farms may take a back seat to personal preferences for cultivation.
Without the Maine Department of Agriculture’s delegated authority to create less onerous standards for small scale farming markets, meat producers could be forced to use federal standards for livestock food production. Advocates should consider that impact on new Mainers who do not have the capacity to meet those federal standards for small-scale, culturally important meat production.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has stated this amendment will create the “right to hunt”; a concept that has failed before Maine voters twice before. Hunting advocates should consider the impact on often targeted shooting ranges if the noise is considered to conflict with an adjacent owner’s desire to raise fowl. This type of legal targeting is possible even if unpalatable, as MMA testified during that law’s public hearing.
If Sunday hunting is allowed, public land managers of mixed-use properties will feel the heat to remove all hunting activity from such trails. This is exactly what we need to avoid while balancing our heritage hunting culture with an influx of new neighbors who don’t understand it.
Despite statements to the contrary, no one knows how such an amendment will play out in court, nor can they guarantee against such challenges. Why fix what isn’t broken and give away your town’s savings to litigation in the process?
For these reasons Maine Municipal Association supports voting no on Question 3.