Sweeping Maine 'right to privacy' measure promises one of 2022's most fascinating debates

·4 min read

Jan. 27—Good morning from Augusta.

What we're watching today

A sweeping 'right to privacy' amendment being floated in the Maine Legislature is stirring up strange alliances. One of the most interesting debates of the 2022 legislative session is shaping up around a measure from Rep. Maggie O'Neil, D-Saco, that would enshrine a right to privacy in the Maine Constitution. There is no explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution, although courts have enshrined that concept as an extension of laws from the Fourth Amendment to the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade and many others as well.

O'Neil's measure looks most focused on digital privacy, but it includes a sweeping right from "governmental and private intrusion." It would extend protections to "personal life, personal communications, private affairs and personal thoughts or inner life." Lawmakers on the judiciary panel will continue work on the bill this afternoon.

The measure was initially floated last year but has not gotten much attention until this year, but one of the co-sponsors is Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who was instrumental in the right-to-food amendment passed by Maine voters last year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine is also behind the measure.

On the other side is a somewhat strange alliance of Maine and regional press groups, including the Maine Press Association, which the Bangor Daily News belongs to, and the evangelical Christian Civic League of Maine. Judy Meyer, the editor of several Maine newspapers, said the measure "puts all past and future reporting at risk if individuals can demand the removal of any story they find objectionable on privacy grounds."

Maine is a private state, but the debate over this measure will be characterized by the balance that lawmakers aim to strike. If voters eventually pass it, courts will be the ones deciding what it means. But there are far-reaching implications that will be sussed out over the next few months.

What we're reading

— Sen. Susan Collins spoke with the No. 2 Democrat charged with shepherding President Joe Biden's replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer about the nomination process and assured her she would have materials necessary to vet the pick. While Democrats do not need Collins' vote, the early contact could be a sign that they are still seeking it. The Maine senator has voted for all but one high court pick put before the Senate during her career and was one of three Republicans to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is seen as a potential Biden pick, to the District of Columbia Circuit last year.

— Maine's backlog of positive COVID-19 tests grew from 46,000 to 56,000 between this week and last week. State health officials told reporters on Thursday they are seeking a way to automate processing of these tests to ease that backlog, which has left daily case totals severely undercounted and temporarily led to a smaller allocation of virus treatments.

— Bangor is joining a statewide network of cities and towns testing their wastewater for COVID-19, an emerging measure of the pandemic that could supplant daily case counts. It is part of a dozen communities that announced plans to begin doing the testing on Wednesday, adding to the few that are doing it already.

Follow along today

— 9 a.m. The Office of the Public Advocate, the ratepayer watchdog, will brief the energy panel one day after its new leader, William Harwood, was confirmed by the Maine Senate. Watch here.

— The tax panel will work on bills including a tobacco tax increase, an effort to expand a tax credit for certain college graduates and credits for the child care industry. Watch here.

— 1 p.m. Child welfare system officials will brief the Legislature's health committee on the state of the system, behavioral health services and foster care. Watch here.

The Daily Brief is written by Bangor Daily News politics editor Michael Shepherd and made possible by BDN subscribers. Enjoy unlimited access to all we have to offer by subscribing.

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