July 15, 2020

Governor seeks clear-cut advice from high court> As referendum draws near, King mulls legality of special session

AUGUSTA — Gov. Angus King has formally asked the Maine supreme court to spell out what power the administration and Legislature would have to address forestry practices in a special session prior to the November clear-cutting referendum.

“I would like to convene the Legislature to consider a bill dealing with some of the same issues treated in LD 1819,” the referendum measure, King wrote.

“However, I would call the Legislature into special session only if they have the authority to consider the type of legislation described, and wish to avoid the considerable expense and disruption entailed in a special session for all concerned absent such authority.”

The gravity of “these vital questions,” King said, was sufficient to justify an advisory opinion from the court.

In writing to the law court, King followed the advice given him last week by Attorney General Andrew Ketterer, who offered his own reading on how referendum-related matters could be treated in a special session but in effect urged King to seek a second opinion from a higher authority.

With three separate questions, King sought guidance on whether legislation designed to counter the sweeping referendum proposal could be enacted in the form of a competing ballot question or as stand-alone legislation that would take effect only if the referendum measure is defeated.

King said he hoped the supreme court would agree to take up the questions “to ensure that any legislation I might submit to the Legislature is fully compatible with the protections afforded citizen-initiated legislation.”

The letter was mailed to the court on Monday and released Tuesday at the State House.

The governor, outspokenly opposed to the referendum proposal to ban clear-cutting, has embraced an alternative that would also substantially revamp permissible forestry practices.

The alternative, negotiated among 15 major landowners and several environmentalist organizations, also appears to have significant support in the Legislature.

Whereas the referendum proposal would place acre-by-acre restrictions on timber harvesting on more than 10 million acres of northern Maine, the alternative would reduce the permissible size of clearcuts and create some preserves where harvesting would be barred.

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