Saturday, May 25, 2013
AUGUSTA -- The concealed-weapon permit data bill that sparked the year's most visceral public policy debate after a newspaper records request is up for its public hearing Tuesday afternoon, and a big crowd is expected.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said he expects 150 to 200 people to show up to testify on the bill, L.D. 345, before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on the State House's fourth floor.
"I tried to encourage the committee through leadership to move it to another venue so we could fit more people," said Trahan, who said he'll testify in support of the bill, which Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, submitted on the group's behalf.
However, committee clerk Susan Pinette isn't sitting idly by. She said three other committee rooms are reserved to account for overflow: two adjacent committee rooms on the fourth floor, as well as the Taxation Committee's first-floor room.
Wilson's bill would permanently shield data on concealed-weapon permits -- names, addresses and dates of birth -- from public inspection. That data is now confidential because of an emergency law passed last month.
It was Trahan's group that was perhaps most active in mobilizing the state's grass roots on gun rights after a public-records request by the Bangor Daily News, seeking the names, addresses and dates of birth of concealed-weapon permit holders, was publicized on Valentine's Day. National news media -- especially conservative outlets -- picked up stories of the request, and the newspaper was barraged with negative comments on its Facebook page.
Activists said the request resembled a December decision by The Journal News, a suburban New York City newspaper that published an interactive map of permit holders soon after the shooting that month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 students and teachers. The newspaper's office is about 50 miles from the school.
The Bangor newspaper said it never intended to publish identifying information, but that was of little consolation to gun-rights activists and legislative Republicans. GOP leaders, including Gov. Paul LePage, condemned the newspaper's actions.
The next Tuesday, the Legislature passed the emergency bill making identifying information on permits confidential until April. Only 11 legislators voted against it then -- all House Democrats or independent liberals. Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was the chief sponsor of LePage's emergency measure, which the governor signed that day.
Senate Democratic spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said her caucus doesn't have a unified position on the bill. Some Democratic senators wholeheartedly reject Wilson's bill, while others support it or would support it with tweaks in language.
Republican support isn't in doubt. Wilson's 57 Republican colleagues in the House co-sponsored the bill.
"Republicans are 100 percent united on this issue," said House GOP spokesman David Sorensen.
Michael Shepherd -- 370-7652