Scarborough legislator’s bill backed by purported hate group

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SCARBOROUGH — State Rep. Heather Sirocki has garnered support from an anti-Muslim hate group for a bill she is sponsoring that would criminalize female genital mutilation in Maine.

The connection was uncovered by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national nonprofit organization that monitors the activities of domestic hate groups and other extremists.

Female genital mutilation, or FGM, is a crime under federal law, but 26 states have also adopted language to ban the practice because there are gaps in the federal code, according to Amanda Parker, senior director of the New York-based nonprofit AHA Foundation, which focuses on protecting women and girls from FGM.

The SPLC said Sirocki contacted the Maine and national chapters of ACT for America, a group designated as anti-Muslim by the SPLC. The advocacy group obtained a series of emails between the Republican legislator and the group that discussed LD 1819 and a Feb. 6 public event in Augusta in support of it.

A second bill, LD 1822, submitted by Democratic Reps. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell and Barabara Cardone, of Bangor, would also criminalize the procedure in the state.

Like Sirocki’s, their bill defines the practice as a Class A crime. But it includes a provision for education and outreach in specific communities, according to Warren.

Warren said she and Cardone met with community members in Lewiston and Portland, district attorneys, and physicians for about a year before crafting the bill.

Although there has never been a FGM case brought in the state, Warren said she wanted the prosecution to be clear if there is a case. Warren said the bill mirrors Federal law, and she sees no reason it will not be passed into law.

Warren said Sirocki was unwilling to meet with community members about the issue at the Statehouse last year.

She said LD 1822 also differs from Sirocki’s proposal because it does not have a subclass component that makes it a lesser crime if a parent is charged in the practice, as opposed to another family member. The representative also said she is uncomfortable with a provision in Sirocki’s bill that allows for a birth certificate or medical records to be obtained to determine the age of a victim, contending it brings up privacy concerns.

Sirocki did not respond to one telephone message and one email message seeking comment on Tuesday.

The SPLC contends ACT for America promotes anti-Muslim legislation throughout the country. A message left for ACT America, based in Washington, D.C., was not returned by press time.

When asked whether ACT America’s support damages the credibility of Sirocki’s bill, Parker, of the AHA Foundation, said she did not want to specifically address other organizations’ support. She said the cause should not be a partisan issue, and should not be used to advance a political agenda.

“It is a human rights abuse,” she said, adding that ideally, legislation focused on the issue should include an education and outreach component, tailored to each state.

In the event at the Statehouse Tuesday, Parker said the bill is intended to fill gaps in Federal law, such as criminalizing the trafficking of girls across state lines. She said it also sends a strong message that genital mutilation will not be tolerated in the state.

She said it is important to note cutting is not a religious act, but a cultural practice, and said genital mutilation is not specific to any one religion.

A previous bill proposed in 2017 by Sirocki to criminalize FGM included an amendment for an education provision that was supported by the Maine chapter of the Americans Civil Liberties Union.

The original version of the bill did not have the support of the ACLU, which said it would have created redundant felony penalties for FGM.

“This bill is nothing more than an attempt to single out behavior that is commonly attributed to certain religious and ethnic communities as different from other forms of abuse,” the ACLU said.

The 2017 bill died last June.

The new proposal makes it a Class A crime, punishable up to 30 years in prison, for an individual to mutilate the genitalia of a girl less than age 18 for nonmedical purposes. The bill also makes it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to transport a person for genital mutilation across the state line.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net.

 Heather Sirocki

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