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Maine governor vetoes bill prohibiting ballot measure contributions from foreign government-owned entities

On June 23, 2021, Gov. Janet Mills (D) vetoed Legislative Document 194, which was designed to prohibit contributions, expenditures, and participation to influence ballot measures by entities with 10% or more ownership by foreign governments.

Mills’ veto letter said, “Even more troubling is this bill’s potential impact on Maine voters. Government is rarely justified in restricting the kind of information to which the citizenry should have access in the context of an election, and particularly a ballot initiative.”

The House approved LD 194 by a vote of 87-54 (61.7%-38.3%), with 10 absent. The Senate approved it by a vote of 23-11 (67.6%-32.4%), with one excused. A two-thirds (66.67%) vote of all present in both chambers of the Maine Legislature is required to overturn a veto. Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. In the Senate, 14 Democrats and nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and seven Democrats and four Republicans voted against LD 194. In the House, 74 Democrats and eight Republicans voted in favor of it, and four Democrats and 50 Republicans voted against it.

Context and background on electric transmission lines initiative:

The bill was passed as an emergency bill in order to ensure it would apply to the current election cycle. There is one ballot measure currently certified for the 2021 ballot in Maine. The measure is an initiative that would (a) prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), and (b) require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve certain electric transmission line projects. The NECEC is a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine.

Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs have raised $31.56 million, including:

• $22.14 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and 

• $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec. 

Hydro-Québec is owned by the Province of Québec, which means LD 194 would have applied to it.

No CMP Corridor is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC Mainers for Local Power is also registered to support the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $7.75 million, including: 

  • $4.98 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine;
  • $1.26 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and 
  • $1.22 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Additional reading: Maine Legislative Approval of Certain Electric Transmission Lines Initiative (2021)

Context and background on changes to laws governing ballot measures in 2021:

Ballotpedia has tracked 198 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall in 39 states in 2021 legislative sessions. At least 24 have been approved. Of the total, 125 bills were designed to change laws governing statewide initiatives, veto referendums, and legislative referrals.

Legislators in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah have passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states in 2021. Notable topics among bills introduced in 2021 sessions include:

• supermajority requirement increases,

• signature requirement and distribution requirement increases,

• single-subject rules,

• pay-per-signature bans,

• residency requirements and other circulator restrictions,

• fiscal impact statement and funding source requirements, and

• ballot measure campaign contribution restrictions.

Gov. Mills is not the first governor to veto a ballot initiative restriction in 2021. Idaho Gov. Brad Little (R) vetoed a bill to require that initiative and referendum petitions must be circulated in Idaho and that petitions must be signed while the signer is physically located within the state. Gov. Little cited concerns over constitutionality.



Maine voters to decide ballot initiative on electric transmission corridor through state’s Upper Kennebec Region

On November 2, 2021, voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), which began construction in the region on May 13. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve electric transmission line projects defined as high-impact.

The NECEC is a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. Segment 1 of the NECEC is a new corridor from the border with Quebec through the Upper Kennebec Region. The remainder of the NECEC would utilize an existing transmission corridor. 

No CMP Corridor is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC Mainers for Local Power is also registered to support the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $7.75 million, including

  • $4.98 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine;
  • $1.26 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and
  • $1.22 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $31.56 million, including

  1. $22.14 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and
  2. $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec. 

Hydro-Québec is a state-owned corporation wholly owned by the Province of Quebec. In 2020, 25 current and former state legislators sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault and Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu, which said, “Hydro-Quebec provides billions of dollars annually to its sole shareholder, the Province of Quebec, which means that the residents of Quebec have a direct financial stake in the outcome of the CMP corridor referendum. … If the shoe were on the other foot and Maine voters were directly connected with a campaign to overturn public opinion on a construction project in Quebec, we would hear protests from the people of Quebec.”

Serge Abergel, the director of external relations for Hydro-Québec, responded to the letter, stating that Hydro-Québec should be allowed to provide information to voters after spending years to obtain permits. Abergel said, “So once you want to take that away, at least give us the right to give the facts when it comes to us. We don’t view this as a loophole at all. We’re compliant to the rules, and we’re just trying here to give a straight story, so people can understand and make their own choices.”

Proponents of the ballot initiative submitted 95,622 raw signatures on January 21, 2021. Former Sen. Thomas Saviello (R-17) filed the ballot initiative. On February 22, 2021, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) announced that 80,506 signatures were valid. The minimum requirement was 63,067 valid signatures. 

The ballot initiative is the only initiated statute on the ballot for the election on November 2, 2021. The Maine State Legislature could still refer general obligation bonds to the ballot. It is also considering at least three constitutional amendments and a referred statute to create a consumer-owned electric transmission and distribution utility. The legislature adjourned its special session on June 17 but will reconvene on June 30.

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Stanfill confirmed as Maine supreme court’s chief justice

The Maine State Senate confirmed Valerie Stanfill as the chief justice of Maine’s highest court on June 3. Gov. Janet Mills (D) appointed Stanfill to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on May 10 to fill a vacancy created when former Chief Justice Leigh Saufley retired in April 2020. The Maine State Senate was required to confirm Stanfill’s appointment.

Stanfill previously served on the Maine Superior Court from February 2020 until her confirmation to the supreme court. She served on the Maine District Court from January 2007 to February 2020. Stanfill’s career experience before becoming a judge included working as an acting director with the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, a visiting clinical professor of law with the University of Maine School of Law, and an attorney in private practice.

Stanfill earned a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Maine School of Law.

Stanfill joins six other justices on the seven-member court:

• Catherine Connors – appointed by Gov. Janet Mills (D) in 2020

• Ellen Gorman – appointed by Gov. John Baldacci (D) in 2007

• Andrew Horton – appointed by Gov. Mills in 2020

• Thomas Humphrey – appointed by Gov. Paul LePage (R) in 2015

• Joseph Jabar – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2009

• Andrew Mead – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2007

In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. So far in 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of those 29 states.

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Delaware, Maine, New Jersey end face-covering requirements

Three states ended statewide public mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people between May 21 and May 28.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) ended the statewide indoor mask requirement May 24. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said businesses could require people to show proof of vaccination, but “the state of Maine is not going to enforce this idea of different policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, nor do we expect businesses to do so.” The state recommended unvaccinated people continue masking in indoor public spaces. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people still had to wear masks in schools and childcare centers, on public transportation, and in health care settings.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) lifted the state’s indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated people on May 28. Masks will still be required in state offices open to the public, schools and childcare centers, on public transportation, and in health care settings. The six-foot social distancing requirement ended on the same day. Dance floors and standing service at bars and restaurants will also be permitted.

Delaware Gov. Jay Carney (D) signed an order on May 18 ending the statewide mask requirement, effective May 21. Carney said masks were still required in state offices open to the public, schools and childcare centers, on public transportation, and in health care settings. The order also strongly encouraged unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks in indoor businesses and public settings in compliance with CDC guidelines at the time.

Additionally, Hawaii lifted its outdoor mask requirements and New York lifted mask requirements for children ages two through five. Washington amended its existing mask orders to align with the CDC guidance issued May 13, exempting fully vaccinated individuals from most indoor mask requirements. 

Thirty-nine states issued statewide public mask requirements during the pandemic. Seventeen states had statewide mask orders as of May 28, including 13 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and four out of the 27 states with Republican governors. 

Of the 22 states that have fully ended statewide public mask requirements, 12 have Republican governors, and ten have Democratic governors. Nineteen states ended mask requirements through executive order, two (Kansas and Utah) ended mask requirements through legislative action, and one (Wisconsin) ended its mandate through court order.



Maine governor appoints Valerie Stanfill to state supreme court

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) appointed Valerie Stanfill to fill a vacancy on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on May 10. The seat became vacant when former Chief Justice Leigh Saufley retired on April 14, 2020, to become dean of the University of Maine School of Law.

Under Maine law, Stanfill requires confirmation by the Maine State Senate in order to become a justice on the state’s highest court.

Stanfill has served on the Maine Superior Court since February 2020. She served as a judge on the Maine District Court from January 2007 to February 2020. Prior to joining the bench, Stanfill’s career experience included working as an acting director with the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, as a visiting clinical professor of law with the University of Maine School of Law, and as an attorney in private practice.

Stanfill earned a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and a J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law.

If confirmed, Stanfill will join the other six justices on the seven-member court:

  • Catherine Connors – appointed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2020
  • Ellen Gorman – appointed by Gov. John Baldacci (D) in 2007
  • Andrew Horton – appointed by Gov. Mills in 2020
  • Thomas Humphrey – appointed by Gov. Paul LePage (R) in 2015
  • Joseph Jabar – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2009
  • Andrew Mead – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2007

In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. So far in 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of those 29 states.

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Hickman (D) defeats Guerrette (R) in special election for Maine state Senate District 14

A special general election was held for Maine state Senate District 14 on March 9, 2021. Craig Hickman (D) defeated William Guerrette (R) by a margin of 63% to 37%, according to unofficial election night results.

No special primary election was held, and the filing deadline passed on Jan. 8, 2021.

The special election was called after the Maine state Legislature elected Shenna Bellows (D) as secretary of state in December 2020. Bellows served from 2016 to 2020.

As of March 2021, 29 state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. Maine held 15 special elections from 2010 to 2020.

Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Democrats control the Maine state Senate by a margin of 22 to 13.

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Special election to be held in Maine Senate district

A special election is being held on March 9 for District 14 of the Maine State Senate. Small business owners Craig Hickman (D) and William Guerrette (R) are running in the general election.

The seat became vacant on December 2 after Shenna Bellows (D) declined to be sworn in for her new term. The Maine Legislature elected her on December 2 to become the state’s new secretary of state. Bellows had represented District 14 since 2016. She won re-election in 2020 with 56% of the vote.

Heading into the special election, Democrats have a 21-13 majority in the Maine Senate with one vacancy. Maine has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of March, 28 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year.

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Maine secretary of state verifies sufficient signatures for ballot initiative to prohibit electric transmission corridors in state’s Upper Kennebec Region

Voters in Maine could decide a ballot initiative designed to stop a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission project, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), that would transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec to utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve future high-impact (defined) electric transmission corridors and prohibit new transmission corridors in the Upper Kennebec Region.

On February 22, 2021, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced that the initiative’s proponents had collected 80,506 valid signatures—17,439 more than the minimum needed for the initiative to go before voters on November 2, 2021. Proponents filed 95,622 unverified signatures on January 21. As ballot initiatives are indirect in Maine, the state legislature has the option to approve the initiative rather than having the issue placed on the November 2021 ballot.

The ballot initiative is the second attempt by NECEC opponents to stop the project at the ballot box. In 2020, the No CMP Corridor PAC, which is also behind this year’s effort, qualified a ballot initiative to require the state’s public utilities commission to reverse an order granting the project with a needed permit. On August 13, 2020, the Maine Supreme Court issued an opinion that the ballot initiative was not a legislative action and therefore exceeded “the scope of the people’s legislative power.” Ten weeks later, No CMP Corridor’s Thomas Saviello, a former Republican state senator, filed the new proposal.

NECEC was proposed by Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Québec, a Quebec state-owned enterprise. NECEC received its final federal or state permit from the U.S. Department of Energy on January 15, 2021. However, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, a 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. Construction was permitted to begin on other segments, which will utilize existing corridors. 

No CMP Corridor, along with the Mainers for Local Power PAC, raised $6.29 million in contributions through December 31, 2021. Most—$6.05 million—was received by Mainers for Local Power. Contributions included $3.78 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine; $1.15 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and $1.12 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Two PACs—Clean Energy Matters and Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership—registered to oppose the ballot measure. Together, the committees have raised $25.68 million, including $16.28 million from Central Maine Power (CMP) and CMP’s parent firm Avangrid and $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec.

No CMP Corridor was the only campaign to filed signatures to get an initiative on the ballot for November 2, 2021. The general election could also feature legislatively referred constitutional amendments and bond issues, as well as citizen-initiated veto referendums proposed after a bill is passed.

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Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock blocked Maine from enforcing provisions of its state constitution and a 2015 law requiring petition circulators to be registered voters, and, therefore, state residents. Woodcock ruled that “the First Amendment’s free speech protections trump the state’s regulatory authority.” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows could appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling also said, “The Court framed its opinion as a prelude to a challenge to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a more authoritative ruling.”

The ruling makes it possible for proponents of a 2022 ballot initiative that would amend the state’s voter qualification statute to say that a person must be a citizen to vote to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) initially filed the ballot initiative in 2019 and, after suspending the campaign due to a lack of funds that year, relaunched it targeting the 2022 ballot.

Rep. Faulkingham, his political action committee We the People PAC, the Liberty Initiative Fund—which is providing funding for signature gathering—and Nicholas Kowalski—a petition circulator from Michigan—were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “ballot access rules which reduce the pool of available circulators of initiative petitions is a severe impairment” and that residency requirements significantly impede their ability to qualify their measure for the ballot. Plaintiffs also argued that the circulator restrictions prevent them from associating with a large portion of the available professional petition circulators and that requiring out-of-state circulators to register with the state is sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the initiative process.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn were named as defendants. They argued that many other initiatives and veto referendums have successfully qualified for the ballot while adhering to the state’s circulator requirements, proving the requirements are not a severe burden on free speech. The defendants also said that the state’s circulator requirements have been upheld by state courts and that the circulator requirements are necessary for the state’s interests in protecting the integrity of the initiative process and “protecting the initiative’s grassroots nature.”

Proponents used professional out-of-state petition circulators along with volunteers and paid in-state petition circulators starting on Nov. 3 to collect signatures. The plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Maine’s residency requirement on Dec. 30, 2020.

The plaintiffs said they competed with No CMP Corridor, the campaign behind an initiative concerning approval of certain electric transmission lines, for in-state professional circulators. Plaintiffs said they were able to find no more than six available professional circulators that were Maine residents. The campaign reported gathering 38,000 signatures by Jan. 25, 2021, and said that 90% of the signatures were collected by the 49 out-of-state professional circulators. The remaining 10% were gathered by six in-state professional petition circulators, 24 volunteer circulators, and 42 paid in-state circulators.

As of Feb. 17, Faulkingham said the campaign had gathered 88,000 signatures. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required by Feb. 26, 2021, to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Woodcock’s ruling, provided it is not appealed or is upheld upon appeal, allows the initiative campaign to use the signatures collected by out-of-state circulators.

Similar measures explicitly requiring citizenship to vote were approved by voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida in 2020 and in North Dakota in 2018.

As of February 2021, seven states—out of the 26 with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process—had residency requirements for ballot initiative petition circulators. An additional three states—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—had requirements in their laws, but federal courts had invalidated or blocked the enforcement of the laws.

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Signatures filed for Maine initiative regarding electric transmission

In Maine, the campaign No CMP Corridor reported filing more than 100,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission lines. The ballot initiative would apply retroactively to September 16, 2020, and apply to any projects in which construction had not yet commenced as of that date. No CMP Corridor designed the ballot initiative to apply to the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project, a joint proposal between Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power (CMP).

Of the signatures submitted, at least 63,067 need to be deemed valid. The initiative process in Maine is indirect, meaning the legislature has the opportunity to approve the initiative itself before it is placed on the ballot. If the legislature does not approve it, the initiative will appear on the ballot for the election on November 2, 2021. 

The NECEC transmission project was designed to cross about 145 miles in Maine, from the state’s border with Quebec to Lewiston, and transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. About 90 miles of the transmission lines would utilize an existing corridor through central Maine. The most northern 54 miles, between the international border and The Forks, would require a new corridor through forested land. While the NECEC project was originally planned to deliver hydroelectric power to Massachusetts, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced that Maine had also secured 500 megawatts from hydroelectric plants at a discounted rate via NECEC on July 10, 2020.

On January 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy provided a presidential permit for NECEC. The presidential permit was the last of the federal and state permits required to start construction activities. On the same day, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the construction of Segment 1 of NECEC, the 54-mile stretch of new corridor in northern Maine, pending a future court decision. 

No CMP Corridor sought a ballot initiative in 2020, but the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found the proposal to violate the Maine Constitution. The 2020 ballot initiative would have required the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to reverse an order made on May 3, 2019, that provided the NECEC transmission project with a certificate. According to the Supreme Judicial Court, the Maine Constitution “requires that a citizens’ initiative constitute legislative action,” and the ballot initiative’s “effect is to dictate the [Public Utility] Commission’s exercise of its quasi-judicial executive-agency function in a particular proceeding…” No CMP Corridor released a statement saying the new proposal constitutes a general law as it does not single out any specific project.  

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