How is a roller derby bill an emergency?

My mom has a subscription to the Kennebec Journal, so when I walked into her house and saw the headline about roller derby bill being deemed an emergency by our Legislative Council, I thought I might have entered a parallel universe. I felt my moral compass spinning erratically, trying to find magnetic north.

And I thanked the powers above, once again, that “WTF” became accepted language before I started blogging.

Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) asked to the council to consider a bill making contact during roller derbies legal in Maine. Since January will find our legislators reconvening for the second part of the 127th session, any new bills must meet an “emergency” standard. This standard reflects that the calendar length of the session is shorter and that there are usually a number of bills carried over from the first session.

Apparently, contact in roller derby became illegal in Maine in 1991. Now suddenly, almost 25 years later, legalizing it is an emergency. Seriously?

It wasn’t quite enough of an emergency for Russell to have introduced the bill back in October when legislative leaders accepted only 32 out of 400 proposed bills. Given the serious and imminent nature of some of the legislation rejected during that round, it seems difficult to believe Russell would have been successful that round. A list of these bills can be found by clicking here.

By not introducing the proposal in October, Russell was spared the difficulty of appealing a theoretical rejection in November. A list of bills appealed in November and the resulting actions by the council can be found by clicking here.

Yet, somehow by skipping the normal vetting process and introducing the roller derby bill as an emergency at the last minute in December, Russell was successful in getting her bill heard. I’m not sure what changed between October, when Russell proposed no legislation and December, when a 25 year old prohibition impacting a very small number of constituents was suddenly an emergency in her mind.

I understand that Rep. Russell means well and is speaking on behalf of a group of people who are passionate about their sport. And I appreciate that the council may have been swept up with the generosity that comes with this holiday season, but again, seriously?

Is this the same Legislative Council that has been extremely selective about picking and choosing bills regarding imminent issues like child hunger, the addiction epidemic, struggling county jails, access to information about state agencies like DHHS regarding their care of our most vulnerable citizens, education, energy, job creation and workforce development?

Is this the same legislative council that witnessed an extremely dysfunctional first half of the session that was barely able to draft a budget? Is this the same council that knows that there are already 200 bills have either been carried over from that dysfunction or introduced by state agencies? 

I’d like to think, in the universe I live in, the Legislative Council would have responded to Russell’s request to this effect:

Rep. Russell, we appreciate the intent of your proposal and the concerns of the constituents for whom you speak. At the same time, though, we hope you and those constituents can understand that we have minimal time to consider legislation this session and our state is currently dealing with ample crisis level issues.

Given those time constraints, an abnormally challenging political environment, and such critical issues as hunger and addiction epidemics, pockets of high unemployment and underemployment, energy challenges, and a generally lagging economy and business climate, we would respectfully ask that you hold off on this proposal. It would be far better suited to the first half of a more normal legislative session.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.