House loosens limits on petition drives

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AUGUSTA – The Maine House relaxed proposed restrictions Wednesday on local petition drives aimed at stopping controversial developments.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed L.D. 1481, which placed a 75-day time limit on a community’s ability to change its mind about unwanted development projects that have already begun.

The House amended the bill to provide voters with more time.

“The amendment ensures that there’s a real window for petitioners to seek redress from their government,” said Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, who offered the amendment.

The Senate bill puts a time constraint on voters hoping to stop a project. It requires that the entire process – including having a question approved by the local government, gathering signatures and actually holding the election – occur within 75 days.

The House version limits petitioners to 75 days to gather signatures and present them to the municipality, but allows more time for the actual election.

“There’s also part of the amendment that’s good for developers,” Cummings said. “It requires petitioners to put in their request within 30 days. That will give a project’s financiers an early indication of any opposition.”

The amendment addresses one of the principal concerns of those who have opposed the bill. It requires that the local government allow the referendum process to go forward.

“We saw this in Auburn, where the city council went round and round with petitioners about a ballot question,” Cummings said. “Under the Senate version of the bill, they would have used up much of the time available to gather signatures.”

In essence, local governments could veto the efforts of voters to change land-use regulations, Cummings said, by running out the clock.

The bill now heads back to the Senate, which can either accept the House changes or stand firm and send it back to the House for reconsideration.

“I think the Senate should come around to our position,” Cummings said. “I think our position is a better balance between the rights of petitions and developers.”

A message left the for the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland, was not returned Wednesday afternoon.

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