Gun control among proposals before Maine lawmakers

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AUGUSTA — Gun control and related issues are expected to account for a sizeable portion of bills for this year’s legislative session in Maine after Friday’s deadline for submission passed.

Details of the bills, even the number submitted, remained hazy, as legislative staff sorts through the avalanche of proposals.

In the meantime, lawmakers are anxious to see what surfaces, especially on sensitive issues such as gun control, which has gained increased national attention since the Dec. 14 massacre at Newtown, Conn., elementary school, in which 20 children and six adults were gunned down.

Among the proposals so far are propositions to reconsider gun magazine size and the current system for criminal background checks, said assistant House Democratic leader, Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan.

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“By the middle of (this) week when we have a list of titles, I think we’ll be able to wrap our hands around what the gun discussion will be here in the state,” said McCabe.

Seeing all the bills will help lawmakers to craft a comprehensive approach to gun safety, said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick.

“Largely this is a federal issue, but there are things at the state level we might want to take a look at. Again, this will be done comprehensively, with the stakeholders at the table, folks on the front line with issues related to public safety, mental health issues and school safety,” said Eves.

About 100 demonstrators, many standing in the snow and some holding flags and placards, gathered Saturday at the capitol in Augusta as part of nationwide demonstrations in support of gun rights.

“Every law-abiding citizen has a right to bear arms. It’s a constitutional right. Nobody should try to take that away from us,” said Joe Getchell of Pittsfield. Another demonstrator held a sign that read, “Educate not legislate.”

There’s no clear timeline yet for any legislation. There are no time limits for the governor to submit bills, and legislators’ after-deadline requests for admission can be considered by Legislative Council, the bipartisan group of House and Senate floor leaders and presiding officers.

Based on past years’ figures, the total number of bills for this year’s legislative session is likely to exceed 1,500. Twenty years ago, in 1993, a total of 1,567 bills were submitted. By 1999, the total was up to 2,258.

The tide of bills is always heaviest during odd-numbered years, when the sessions run five to six months, longer than the four-month wrap-up sessions in even years. In an atmosphere of tight money and heightened efforts to save time, the total was back down to 1,588 by 2011.

Still, lawmakers are encouraged from time to time to limit their bills, with hopes of streamlining the process.

The agenda is well-defined and busy for the Appropriations Committee, which must plug major holes in the current year’s budget, then review Gov. Paul LePage’s $6.3 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal years and other major fiscal initiatives he’s put forward.

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