The danger of amending Maine’s Constitution

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Allowing amendments to the Maine Constitution which bar citizens from voting on the issue at a later date is a recipe for trouble. (ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
Allowing amendments to the Maine Constitution which bar citizens from voting on the issue at a later date is a recipe for trouble. (ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

 

This might have slipped under the radar of many of us, but last year there were not one but two bills introduced into the Maine Legislature to amend Maine’s Constitution to protect the right of Mainers to hunt and fish.

If such an amendment were to pass, it would take any power the voters have from passing legislation that interfered with what would then be a constitutional right for Mainers to hunt and fish. Undoubtedly, hunters are worried about another trapping referendum coming up, because it isn’t difficult to imagine that, in a few more years, as older Mainers pass on and younger Mainers who aren’t as invested in hunting reach voting age, such restrictions on trapping might succeed.

Amending the Maine Constitution is not, at least on paper, all that difficult. A bill must pass both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority; after that, it goes to the voters, where a simple majority would enact the amendment.

But what does this have to do with riding motorcycles?

There is a very effective power in a constitutional amendment. By passing an amendment that prohibits voters from having any say, Maine citizens are disenfranchised. And over what? The possibility that there might be restrictions on hunting? With an end result being that hunters could forever point to their constitutional right to hunt in opposition to just about anything they deem is interfering with that right, this is more than just an amendment but a wake-up call for Mainers to realize how groups with their own special interests can seriously and detrimentally affect everyone.

The problem is what could become a snowball effect. If such an amendment passed, how long would it be before other groups seized the opportunity to offer their own proposals for constitutional amendments?

There is a very vocal bunch in Maine who would like to see a motorcycle-helmet law enacted. While we at RiderZine strongly supports the use of a Snell-approved helmet by any rider, we also believe that an individual should have the choice. Much like the seat-belt law, it’s a personal decision. We feel that choosing to not wear a helmet is a very, very bad idea, and not something that responsible riders should do, because it adds such greater risk to a pastime that is already quite dangerous. But that doesn’t change the fact that it should be the rider’s choice. If he chooses to ride without a helmet, that is his acceptable level of risk — regardless of what we might think.

But demanding a helmet makes sense to many Mainers. How long would it take for a group of safety-minded people, many who likely don’t even ride, to convince the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment requiring helmets — and with a provision that bars citizens from even having the chance to vote on the issue in the future?

Take the issue as it would apply to motorcyclists another step further: What if concerned citizens they feel that passengers should not be allowed because motorcycles are too dangerous? What if those who don’t like noisy motorcycles try to get them banned altogether? What if someone tries to criminalize riding a motorcycle past a church? Anyone with an idea that can get two-thirds support in Legislature might well find just one vote over 50 percent in the citizenry to make that idea happen — and make it difficult to undo later.

Constitutional amendments should be very carefully and very delicately approached. This doesn’t apply only to the potential issues that might confront motorcyclists; it applies to everything we as Mainers do. Work to pass laws, or even work to pass a constitutional amendment, but respect the fair process and don’t try to create language that bars citizens from having say in it down the road.

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