In an attempt to obstruct the Legislature’s oversight responsibility, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew refused last month to share records with the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which voted unanimously to undertake a comprehensive review of DHHS’ Office of Child and Family Services after several child deaths.

We’ve unfortunately seen this pattern before, regardless of who is in office. As a co-equal branch, the Legislature has a well-defined statutory oversight authority, and the review of confidential records is sometimes necessary to perform this critical function.

Lambrew based her decision partly on a disputable interpretation of the statute governing these records by Maine Assistant Attorney General Ariel Gannon. In her opinion to DHHS, Gannon said that GOC members were not entitled to the records.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. GOC draws its unique authority from Chapter 21, which gives this investigative committee broad powers, including the right to gain otherwise nonpublic information, to examine witnesses, to hold hearings, to administer oaths, to issue subpoenas, and to hold those who obstruct our process in contempt.

In fact, Title 22 mandates disclosure of records of the department’s child protective activities to “an appropriate … legislative official with responsibility for child protective services.”

GOC is exactly that.

Our system of government was thoughtfully designed to provide checks and balances for such a moment as this. It is time for the legislative branch, once again, to assert its authority and equal role in our government.

Sen. Lisa Keim, Dixfield

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