Watching Maine’s 186-person Legislature try to churn through thousands of bills in the few short months it is in session can be an amusing experience — until the bill you are especially interested in comes up for debate. Then, unless, you understand the workings of government, the process can be a frustrating, confusing time.
A Citizen’s Guide to the Maine Legislature, published by the Maine People’s Resource Center, tries to take some of the mystery out of the process. It is a valuable handbook for citizen lobbyists, members of interest groups, teachers and spectators of government.
The guide lists brief biographies of all legislators, how much they spent on getting elected, their positions on issues and ratings from interst groups. Though the focus of the positions targets only a few issues — did they support an increase in the minimum wage, what is their stand on health care — the rating come from a range of sources: AFL-CIO, Sportman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine chapters of the National Organization for Women and National Federation of Independent Business, the National Rifle Association and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardener’s Association.
As important as knowing something about Maine’s lawmakers is understanding the legislative process. The guide presents quick, informative summaries of how the Legislature is organized, how an idea becomes a law, how to lobby effectively and how to read legislation. One section of the guide that would benefit from expansion is its glossary of terms — experienced lawmakers have a language all their own, sometimes making it hard to follow a debate.
In addition, the guide lists legislative committees, identifies lawmakers by districts, lists constitutional officers, citizen groups and political parties. It isn’t exhaustive, but offers a solid introduction to the legislative process.
(The guide is available through the Maine People’s Resource Center in Portland, 761-1881, for $13.98 plus shipping.)