PORTLAND — A local legislator is going on a line to protect the right of residents to use solar energy at home.
According to state Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, “An Act to Protect the Right to Use Solar Energy” would prohibit municipalities, landlords and condominium associations from restricting the rights of residents to hang clothes on outdoor lines. The bill would also protect the right of individuals to install solar collectors for drying clothes.
Hinck, who represents the West End, said he first received correspondence from a constituent in 2007 who suggested a law to protect the right to hang a clothes line. Hinck was unable to propose the bill that year, but this fall he was contacted by local representative of the national “Right to Dry” movement, asking him to consider the legislation.
“I told them it’s already on my list,” Hinck said.
Project Laundry List is a Concord, N.H.-based nonprofit that provides solar clothes drying advocacy and education.
Alexander Lee, executive director for the organization, said the “Right to Dry” movement is one that is picking up momentum across the country and in Canada. Clothes lines, he said, can be pretty controversial.
The Hawaii Legislature passed a bill last year to protect laundry lines, only to have it vetoed by the governor, Lee said. Colorado successfully passed a bill last year to protect retractable laundry lines, and Ontario lifted a ban on most types of solar drying instruments. However, he said, similar legislation failed in Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
“We understand that this is a blunt intrument approach to the issue,” Lee said. He said the best approach to encouraging the allowance and use of clothes lines would be to meet with community associations individually. But that, he said, would take forever.
“We have an economic crisis right now where people can’t afford their energy bills,” Lee said.
Objection to clothes line legislation happens primarily for two reasons, Lee said: contracts for homeowner associations and condominiums can’t be changed, and aesthetics.
“It’s the prudery and snobbery objections,” he said. “It is the person that says, ‘I don’t want to see her underwear.'”
Lee also said clothes lines are often associated with the lower class. An initiative called “Right to Dry,” is collecting signatures to encourage President Barack Obama to put a clothes line on the White House lawn for at least one day as a symbol of environmental activism and to fight the stereotype that laundry lines are for poor people.
Hinck could not point to any specific complaints in Portland involving clothes line discrimination, but said there is a subdivision in Thomaston that does not allow the lines. He said this legislation would clarify Mainers’ right to air-dry laundry.
“We can’t afford to ignore an inexhaustible and free source of energy,” Hinck said.
According to Lee, there are about 50 members of Project Laundry List in Maine. The organization set up a booth at the Common Ground Fair last fall, where he said he was approached by people from southern and mid-coast Maine who told him they could not hang laundry lines.
Hinck’s bill was scheduled for a workshop in the Utilities and Energy Committee on Tuesday. A work session is scheduled for Feb. 3 and the committee could vote on a recommendation at that meeting, which begins at 1 p.m. in Room 211 at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta.
• Inside: Adams’ rules limit use of cell phones, laptop computers by lawmakers. Page 5.
Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would protect the right to string lines for outdoor clothes drying.