Our state will be at its strongest when every Mainer, regardless of race, ethnicity, or family history, has an equal opportunity to live a happy, successful, and prosperous life.
Achieving that vision will require us to remove barriers to opportunity and prosperity that have made it harder for racial and ethnic minorities to achieve their full potential. According to nearly every data set available — not to mention the lived experience of people of color in Maine — the myriad systems that make up daily life work better for white people than for people of color.
Today, the Maine Legislature will begin to consider a bill — LD 2, sponsored by House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, the first Black woman elected to the Maine Legislature — that would help policymakers achieve that reality by empowering them the information necessary to ensure new laws help advance racial justice.
MECEP supports this bill because it is a powerful tool for building a stronger, fairer economy for all Mainers — Black, brown, and white alike.
About LD 2
At its core LD2 is about evidence-based policymaking. Its primary purpose is to give lawmakers the information they need to make sound decisions.
This bill is based on a simple, premise: Racial disparities in Maine are real, and can be exacerbated or improved by policy. The same way we assess spending bills to determine their impact on state finances or assess new infrastructure to see how it would affect our environment, we can and should rate legislation for how it would help or hinder racial justice.
LD 2 would create a pilot program, to be implemented in 2022, to provide racial impact statements to lawmakers for some pieces of legislation. Racial impact statements would provide a systematic analysis of how historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups would be affected by a proposed policy. Based on the outcome of the pilot project, recommendations will be made on how racial impact statements can be implemented more broadly, starting in 2023.
Seven other states — Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon — use racial impact statements to help legislators understand the ramifications of proposed legislation.
Why we need racial impact statements for legislation
Over centuries, the United States has built up social and economic systems that benefit white Americans and disadvantages people of color. Many of the systemic barriers to justice for people of color and members of tribal nations were created with the explicit purpose of holding these populations down. But there are other policies and practices that may appear race-neutral at first glance, but nonetheless perpetuate or exacerbate racial injustice.
Perhaps the most well-known example is the disproportionate impact our drug laws have on Black Mainers. Harsh sentencing requirements for drug crimes may not appear to be targeted at Black Mainers, but when they intersect with a criminal justice system that’s more likely to suspect, arrest, charge, and convict Black people than whites, they have led to higher levels of incarceration and harsher sentences for this population.
But systemic racial disparities aren’t limited to the sphere of criminal justice. For example, the structure of Maine’s wage and hour laws exempt certain occupations from overtime or minimum wage protections — occupations that are more likely to be held by people of color.
On the other side of the ledger, it’s important to know which bills can help close the gaps between white Mainers and Mainers of color. The state’s Permanent Commission on Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations worked with several dozen legislators this summer to evaluate bills on the 130th Legislature that would address systemic racism in our state. Those recommendations laid the groundwork for much needed change, but they were only a start. LD 2 would create a similar process for the Legislature to undertake on its own.
LD 2 will help advance racial justice
The aim with LD2 is to make a similar process of racial impact analysis part of the routine work of the Legislature. While Racial Impact Statements will not end racial disparities in Maine, they would be a powerful tool to advance racial justice.
It’s easy to examine the effect of a law after it’s been passed. If enacted, LD 2 will empower legislators with a fuller understanding of policy proposals before a bill becomes a law, and to change legislation to reduce harm to Maine families.