Augusta, ME

Discussion on the much-awaited LD-214 legislation starts in Augusta, ME

Stephen L Dalton

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Discussion on several bills started today in Augusta, ME, in the legislature. Among those is the controversial, yet necessary, LD-214, an Act to Eliminate Qualified Immunity for Police Officers.

Originally, LD-214 was scheduled during the 129th session in 2020; however, due to the pandemic, it was shelved. It will now get the full discussion, committee recommendation, and vote.

The Sunlight Media Collective, 'a media collective supporting the Wabanaki peoples' traditional stewardship of the land and water; to ensure a healthy ecosystem for all of Maine,' announced on their Facebook page, “There's another really important bill coming up for testimony tomorrow, in the Judiciary Committee, LD 214: An Act to Eliminate Qualified Immunity for Police Officers. This is an important bill to hold police accountable for their crimes against the people.”

The Civil Rights Bill brought by Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, ME, campaigned heavily on the promise to bring about law enforcement (LE) reform. He’s holding true to his word.

Jeffrey Evangelos was re-elected to represent Maine’s 91st District, including Friendship, Waldoboro, Washington, and part of Union, Maine. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee, and in that capacity, has proposed several pieces of legislation for corrections and LE reform.

But what is LD 214? The Bill’s summary is short and simple, “This bill eliminates the ability to assert a defense of qualified immunity for civil action concerning the actions of state police officers, sheriffs, deputies, constables, municipal police officers, marine patrol officers, game wardens and Capitol Police officers brought under the Maine Civil Rights Act.”

Some would argue that it undermines the ability of LE to do their jobs, while those who favor the Bill’s enactment would argue, “No one is above the law,” especially those who enforce it.

This Act and similar legislation are being debated in other states and the US Congress right now. One study released in March 2021 stated, “Qualified immunity is considered to be one of the most significant barriers to civil rights enforcement, and it is currently under assault from multiple perspectives. The Supreme Court has made clear that it views qualified immunity as an increasingly important tool in protecting defendants from damages liability. The evidence suggests that district courts are less sanguine on the doctrine, using it far less often to resolve civil rights cases.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures defines “qualified immunity” as, “The doctrine of qualified immunity protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.” It further states, “According to the Supreme Court, qualified immunity protects all except the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

However, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in NYC proposes, “Qualified immunity is a powerful doctrine that can bar a damages remedy in civil rights cases even where a plaintiff can establish that her constitutional rights were violated.”

It is crucial to know and understand each side of the controversial law. Take a look at the “Right to Work” laws. Judging merely by the title, you would assume these laws would favor the employee; most do not.

Yet, when asked, “Who benefits from Right-to-Work laws?” you will get a rhetorical answer, such as, “Both companies and workers benefit from a better economy, as wages and corporate earnings increase.”

However, those laws give the employer the option not to deal with unions or collective employee activities, and “The employment relationship can be terminated for any reason or no reason at all.”

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You can watch the hearings and discussions on the Judiciary Committee’s YouTube channel. The talks began at 9 am on 29 April 2021.

JUD 4/29/2021 Public Hearings and Work Sessions

The Maine Judiciary Committee uploaded this video to their channel. Watch, like, subscribe, and provide feedback on YouTube.

According to Representative Evangelos:

This is a long-overdue reform that will align the rights of all people, including the police. One nation, one people, all subject to the same laws, no exceptions. Let us never forget that we are a civilian nation, ruled by civilians and laws, and that the police and military are subservient to civilian rule, just as President Eisenhower asserted when he stepped down from the military and assumed his civilian oversight powers as President of the United States in 1952-53.

There is no accountability in Maine with the police. When there is misconduct, there is no accountability. We have something called qualified immunity, which allows law enforcement to have a separate set of laws that the rest of us aren’t entitled to.”

Co-sponsors from the Maine legislature include:

  • Senator Dave Miramant, D-Camden
  • Representative Thom Hartnett, D-Gardiner
  • Representative Victoria Morales, D-South Portland
  • Representative Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland
  • Representative Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell

Every effort by Maine citizens to hold the police and other LE officers accountable for private citizen’s death have ended in a resounding 190-0 ruling of justifiable by the Maine Attorney General's (AG) Office. Those numbers do not even seem realistic.

The Judiciary Committee will also look at L.D. 1416, An Act to Limit Qualified Immunity of Law Enforcement Officers in Maine Civil Rights Act Claims. This is similar legislation intended to remove qualified immunity protection from primarily LE when their “alleged act” was not clearly a violation of established laws or constitutional guarantees under Maine’s Civil Rights Act.

References:

The National Conference of State Legislatures.org research page, Qualified Immunity.

The Penobscot Bay Pilot article, Rep. Evangelos to present An Act To Eliminate Qualified Immunity for Police Officers before legislative committee.

The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law research article, Qualified Immunity.

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Stephen Dalton is a retired US Army First Sergeant with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Top Writer in Virtual Reality, Sports, Short Story, Design, and Creativity. I especially like writing about design and home improvements.

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