Wednesday, December 4, 2013
AUGUSTA -- Security screening at the State House will continue.
Legislative leaders voted Monday not to allow Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to introduce a bill proposing elimination of the screening, which began in January 2012.
It costs about $200,000 per year to employ the four workers who run the screening station, which includes a metal detector, at the rear entrance to the State House.
The Legislative Council voted 5-4 not to allow the bill to be introduced after deadline. Besides Katz, the legislators who voted in favor of advancement were Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland; Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport; and Rep. Alex Willette, R-Mapleton.
House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said legislators should evaluate the screening system after more time has passed.
Senate Democratic Leader Seth Goodall, of Richmond, said decisions about State House facilities should be made by the Legislative Council, not the full Legislature.
The addition of a screening checkpoint was controversial from the start, with Republicans on the Legislative Council voting to install the new system while they held a majority on the council.
Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said his research revealed that in 2007, 27 states screened people coming into their capitol buildings, and based on anecdotal evidence he thinks the number has increased since then.
In the Northeast, the two states without screening are New Hampshire and Vermont.
Gauvin said one option to reduce cost is to reduce screening to six months a year, mainly when the Legislature is in session, saving $100,000.
To streamline the process, the lobby would have to be redesigned around the screening checkpoint, Gauvin said.
Maine State Police Lt. Scott Ireland, who formerly oversaw security for Gov. Paul LePage and his family, said the screening is a boon to that unit because it assures them there are no threats inside the State House.
Gauvin said state capitols are a likely target for those seeking attention.
"In Maine, the most visible place to make a political statement is the State House," he said. "This is where people come to settle hotly contested, vital issues."
Katz said someone seeking to make a statement could go to the adjacent Cross Building, which has no screening system and is the site of several state offices and legislative committee hearings. Also, he said, as recent history has shown, shopping malls, college campuses, movie theaters or athletic events could be targets.
Katz said he'd rather see the money spent on security for county courthouses, where violent confrontations are more likely.
Even though the State House screening is proving less expensive than anticipated, Katz said it's an unwise use of scarce tax dollars and provides a false sense of security.
"We're spending $200,000 a year making sure third-graders don't bring in weapons of mass destruction, because that's 90 percent of the people coming into this building," he said.
Also on Monday, the Legislative Council approved a package of capital projects that includes $1.2 million to replace the patinated copper sheathing on the State House dome.
Berry said the replacement is "necessary and appropriate." The sheathing, which has been in place since 1909-10, has weathered to the point that holes are allowing water to reach the dome's concrete superstructure.
The project is scheduled to begin next year. The dome will be brown for a few decades until oxidation turns the copper green again.
Susan McMillan -- 621-5645