A bill that will make it more difficult for citizens to initiate new ballot questions advanced in the Legislature on Monday, but it’s losing support amid warnings from opponents that the proposal will dramatically change the state’s referendum process. The bill, advanced by a 93-54 vote in the House of Representatives, would amend the Maine Constitution to require sponsors of ballot campaigns to obtain a percentage of voter signatures from each of Maine’s two congressional districts. Maine voters, who are the final arbiters in all changes to the Constitution, could vote on the change in November if the bill passes.
The House amended the bill Monday to ensure that the constitutional change wouldn’t go into effect until March 1, 2016. The amendment was added over concerns that the bill would change the rules for ballot campaigns already underway, including two efforts to legalize marijuana.
On Monday, several lawmakers argued that the bill was an overreaction to last year’s bear baiting referendum, a ballot question that has since inspired several changes to the referendum process.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said lawmakers should “tread lightly” when considering changes to the Maine Constitution. He said lawmakers are charged with responding to the “emergencies of the day” through changes in law, not through “an intrusion into our state’s charter.”