Here’s a recap of activity and bills of interest to MeBIC at the State Legislature since our March update.
MeBIC’s priority bills that have been approved in committee
- LD 647: An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents to Strengthen the Workforce
On May 22, 2019, the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business (IDEA) voted that LD 647 “Ought to Pass” by a 9 to 3 margin. LD 647 is described in more detail in this prior MeBIC post. Key points about the bill can be found here.
While LD 647 benefits Maine’s immigrants, it is a workforce development bill in its impact. Many MeBIC partners submitted testimony in support of LD 647, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Coastal Enterprises, Inc, the Maine Health Care Association, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, Maine Health, Barber Foods, Pro Search, Inc., GWI, Ready Seafood, Street & Co. restaurant group, American Roots, along with other MeBIC allies, such as the Associated General Contractors of Maine.
The bill now moves to the House and Senate for floor votes. The biggest challenge will be getting funding from the Appropriations Committee following the floor votes. It may be necessary to carry the bill over to 2020 since there is an extremely limited amount of funding available for initiatives that are not included in the state budget document.
- LD 1685: An Act to Facilitate Entry of Immigrants into the Workforce
On May 22, 2019, LD 1685 achieved bipartisan support when the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business (IDEA) voted unanimously that it “Ought to Pass.” MeBIC and several allies including coalition partner Maine State Chamber of Commerce testified in support of the bill.
LD 1685, proposed by MeBIC and the New Mainers Resource Center, and introduced by Representative Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston, would provide interest-free loans to asylum seekers (who under federal law cannot get a work permit until their applications have been pending for 180 days) and others waiting for their initial work permits.
The loans would be for specific expenses related to helping these immigrants be work ready at their highest potential by taking advantage of the time while awaiting their work permits. Qualifying expenses would include fees for translation and evaluation of education and/or experience credentials, for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or similar exams, for drivers licenses, for fingerprinting of those who will be seeking work in jobs that require background checks, etc.
By helping these individual get their credentials evaluated while they wait for their work permits, once they are authorized to work, they can immediately look for jobs that more closely match their skill levels. The loan program would be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.
The bill now moves to the House and Senate for floor votes. The bill has a very small fiscal note, so MeBIC is cautiously optimistic that it will receive funding from the Appropriations Committee.
Bills already heard that MeBIC has supported
- LD 777: An Act to Create a Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations
Many of Maine’s immigrants are people of color, and issues that impact people of color generally also may affect them, unfortunately, adversely.
LD 777, which had a public hearing on May 2, 2019, would create a permanent commission to study socio-economic disparities among racial, indigenous and tribal populations in Maine. It will work with state agencies and other stakeholders to examine quantitative and qualitative data on a variety of factors, such as business ownership, household assets, debts and income, housing, employment, and access to inherited wealth, capital, and benefits. It will be authorized to devise programs or suggest legislation, and to work with the Governor’s office and state officials towards improving opportunities and eliminating disparities.
Existing data shows that Mainers of color are more than twice as likely to be poor and unemployed than non-Hispanic white Mainers. White Mainers are 1.5 times more likely to be homeowners, and twice as likely to be business owners. Disparities also exist in public schools, with white students more likely to be enrolled in AP courses, and less likely to be suspended, than students of color. These issues are systemic and require systemic solutions.
No Mainers, including immigrants of diverse ethnic and racial origins, should have their ability to reach their full potential diminished because of systemic barriers.
MeBIC believes that LD 777 is an important first step, and would demonstrate Maine’s commitment to identifying, advancing, evaluating and refining solutions to address challenges and to remove barriers that may prevent many Mainers of color, including native born and recent immigrants alike, from achieving equity and being able to live and contribute to their maximum potential here in Maine. MeBIC submitted written testimony in support of LD 777.
The bill was voted out of committee on May 10th with a divided report.
- LD 1475: An Act to Eliminate Profiling in Maine
Those who work with or are friends or family members of immigrants of color are well aware that profiling of people of color by law enforcement officials happens in Maine. In 2009, Maine’s legislature created an Advisory Committee to study the issue. MeBIC’s executive director was a member of that Committee. A problem identified by the Committee was the lack of detailed data maintained by law enforcement agencies on the characteristics of those stopped, detained or arrested, which made it both impossible to establish a baseline of the extent of the issue, and to identify trends either in an improving or worsening direction.
While many positive changes were made as a result of the Committee’s work, most were voluntary and not mandatory, and data collection was not required. Ten years after the establishment of that committee, profiling still occurs. This bill would mandate that all law enforcement entities have policies prohibiting profiling and that their personnel receive relevant training, and would require data collection and tracking.
Maine is the nation’s oldest, and whitest, state. We need to attract people to the state to live and work here, and to be successful, our state must be perceived as welcoming to all. LD 1475 would help ensure that people of color will not be singled out (instances of which appear in MeBIC’s testimony in support of the bill) for stops and questioning just because of their outward appearance).
As Maine competes for talent with other states that are also seeing their workforces shrink as the Baby Boom generation retires, LD 1475 sends the right message that all are welcome in Maine.
LD 1475 was voted out of committee on May 29th with a divided report.
- LD 1584: An Act To Attract, Build and Retain an Early Childhood Education Workforce through Increased Training, Education and Career Pathways
Lack of childcare for pre-school age children is an enormous barrier to engaging fully in the workforce, for native U.S. citizens and immigrants alike. And lack of both quantity and quality early educators contributes to the shortage of childcare centers.
This bill approaches the shortage of early educators by creating professional career pathways that, together with increased pay scales, will help the profession attract and retain more individuals with the inclination and aptitute to care for and educate our youngest children.
MeBIC supports the bill, but has also urged the Legislature to amend it to include language to ensure that immigrants will have equitable access to the training programs and apprenticeships that the bill proposes, for example, through inclusion of English as a Second Language offerings . You can find a link to our testimony here.
LD 1584 was voted out of committee on May 14th with an anticipated divided report.
- LD 1596: An Act to Enhance the Long-term Stability of Certain At-risk Youth
Federal immigration law allows immigrant youth who are unmarried and under 21 who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both of their parents to apply for permanent residency in order to obtain the permanent status in the U.S. that they need to ensure their safety and well-being. A prerequisite, however, is that a state court, after reviewing their facts, must confirm that they have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment, and must issue special findings concerning the youth.
Maine is one of many states in which these at-risk youth cannot even get into court after turning 18. Many states have changed their laws to allow this specific class of child to have access to the courts up until age 21. LD 1596 would do the same. Without this change, these youth may leave Maine to become residents of states where they can access the courts and then file for permanent residency. There is no guarantee that they will then return to Maine.
The number of youth who would benefit from LD 1596 is small, estimated at 10 to 20 per year, but the benefit to them is immeasurable, and their gaining permanent residency will also benefit the state. These are youth who are at the beginning of their working trajectories who have already chosen to make Maine their home. We need them to stay and be able to live and work to their fullest potential right here in Maine.
Testimony in support of the bill, including MeBIC’s, is here. The Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve LD 1596 on May 21st. The bill now moves to the House and Senate. Because it has a minimal fiscal note, MeBIC is cautiously optimistic that it will become law if it is approved by both chambers.
Bills that MeBIC Opposed
- LD 1077 to mandate use of E-Verify fails: MeBIC opposed LD 1077, which would have required all Maine employers to use the federal E-Verify web-based system to verify employment authorization of all staff (in addition to completing the USCIS I-9 employment eligibility verification form). The bill was voted down in the Legislature on May 2, 2019. You can read more details about why MeBIC opposed LD 1077 and find a link to our testimony here.
- LD 1449 to mandate that state and local law enforcement engage in immigration law enforcement. MeBIC testified in opposition to this bill on May 22, 2019, because it will damage public safety and also harm Maine’s economy. At a time when Maine needs to attract more, not less, immigrants, due to our aging demographics and shrinking labor supply, this bill send the exact wrong message, letting individuals of color and immigrants generally know that they will be subject to scrutiny. This is the opposite of the welcoming message Maine should be broadcasting.
The first legislation of this kind was enacted in Arizona more than a decade ago. The bulk of that legislation was struck down in the the federal courts, but not before the legislation resulted in millions in lost revenue to the state.
The bill was voted out of committee with a divided report in opposition on May 29, 2019.