It’s been more than 100 days since I was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, and it’s safe to say that my husband and three young daughters now know more facts, figures, abbreviations and nicknames for state programs and departments than they probably want to. While the headlines on TV and in the newspaper may sound pretty challenging for our state, I’m honored to be serving you in Augusta and eager to do as much as I can for our area and state.
One of the most interesting parts of being in the Legislature is that there’s something different every day. I’m serving on the Natural Resources Committee, a passion of mine, and have considered legislation so far on everything from biomedical waste disposal to man-made wetland rules to municipal ownerships of dams.
New issues on all subjects and in all committees arise moment by moment. Even though it doesn’t sound like there is much bipartisan cooperation in Washington, I have already seen many compromises in these difficult times in Augusta, supported by a willingness to do what makes sense for Maine.
For instance, this week is my first public hearing on one of the bills I’ve submitted, and I’ll be using the time to “kill” my proposal. Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain.
As a mom, I breast-fed my three daughters when they were infants, and my experience, along with many others I’ve encountered through friends and support networks, taught me that this very healthy option has some significant barriers to its success. I submitted three bills on breaking down those walls.
One of them, the proposal I will be withdrawing, provided a jury duty exemption to lactating mothers. I studied the issue extensively before submitting the bill, and learned it was an option in other states. For anyone not familiar with the breast-feeding experience, a newborn and infant eat every two to three hours. You learn pretty quickly to balance the baby’s schedule and your family’s other needs. But waiting all day at court to be chosen for a jury, even with pumping a sufficient milk supply, throws a wrench into that balancing act.
Some time after I submitted the bill, I went on a tour of some of our courts, and spoke with judges and our state’s Supreme Judicial Court chief justice, Leigh Saufley. As we discussed the issue, we found a compromise that would work much better, cost the taxpayers less because the bill wouldn’t go that far through the process, and accommodate lactating moms. Judges, Saufley said, can make discretionary exemptions, and she would make them aware of the need to do so.
Once it’s drafted, every piece of legislation has to have a public hearing, and I have asked the Judiciary Committee members to immediately vote down my bill. I’m still pursuing my other bills – one to provide better space in the workplace for lactating mothers to express breast milk and another about discrimination and lactating mothers.
What’s most exciting about this situation is to find a solution to a problem without it costing more money. Efforts like these are what help the state manage its resources. We learned last week that state has saved $221 million under its spending cap, and that these restraints are starting to slow the growth of property taxes.
This, coupled with the news that Maine will be receiving assistance from the federal stimulus package, is good news. Not great, but I’ve learned quickly that governing is a work in progress – and that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
State Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes, a Yarmouth Democrat, represents House District 107. She can be reached at 846-3877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.