Some bills need to stay stuffed in rep’s pockets

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There are a couple of bills stuffed in Rep. Deb Simpson’s pocket that should stay there.

Simpson, a Democrat from Auburn, has introduced LR 1237, “An Act To Extend Black-Powder Season By One Week.” The bill’s aim is precise, but comes weeks after a hunter with imprecise aim, Timothy Bean, allegedly shot a Paris teenager dead in her backyard.

Megan Ripley’s death came in the gloaming of Maine’s muzzle-loader season. It incited debate on safe hunting practices, whether to standardize the schedules of the deer seasons, and bolstering public awareness about hunting and hunters.

Simpson, this week, said she introduced this bill at the suggestion of a hunter. Though public input into the legislative process is cherished, the bill ignores the thoughtful, impassioned debate that emerged from the Paris tragedy about practical reforms for prevention of further tragedies.

Worse, it shows a dearth of sensitivity to Megan Ripley. The circumstances of her death are murky; perhaps low-light conditions brought about by the lateness of the calendar was a key factor in the fatal shot. Until the details are vetted, altering the black powder season would be as shortsighted as Bean is accused of being.

Simpson has introduced 31 bills for the 123rd Legislature. We agree with some, like reducing equipment taxes for small manufacturers, expanding domestic violence training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and addressing the burgeoning trend of inattentive drivers yapping on cell phones.

We disagree, strongly, with others. Such as LR 1511, “An Act To Ensure the Integrity of School Crisis Response Plans,” that would shield school crisis plans from Maine’s public records laws, making it a private document privy only to school administrators and the Maine Department of Education.

The notion, Simpson said, is to prevent these plans from falling into nefarious hands. “It seems to me it’s important to know a school has a safety plan,” she said, but that schools shouldn’t be compelled to reveal it, especially to persons who could have “ill will.”

Except, as this newspaper found during its recent school safety audit, those with “ill will” can walk into some schools through unlocked doors. A state inquiry last year also found many schools maintained inadequate or incomplete crisis plans, despite mandates.

Shielding these records is impractical. Schools haven’t yet earned the right to just say they have a crisis plan, and the DOE shouldn’t babysit schools to ensure compliance. Parents, most of all, have a right to know what their schools can do with their children in case of crisis.

Legislators aren’t privy to every viewpoint when introducing bills. With 2,400 bills submitted this year, lawmakers have flooded the process with many undeveloped notions, in the hopes of attracting substance.

Some, however, shouldn’t have made the cloture list in the first place. Extending the black powder season and shielding school security plans are two examples.

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