Reps split on bill to make false testimony illegal

Should lying to state legislators be a crime?

By Stephen Betts | May 18, 2017

Augusta — Local legislators were divided along party lines on a bill that would make it a crime to give false testimony to Legislative Committees.

The Maine House voted 72-71 to reject a bill -- LD 850 -- that would have made it a Class E crime to provide "purposely false" testimony or to "purposely omit or conceal material facts" when giving testimony to a Legislative Committee.

If the testimony is given under oath, the crime would be raised to a Class D offense.

The maximum sentence if convicted of a Class E crime is six months in jail and a year for a Class D offense.

The bill would cover the public, legislators who gave testimony, executive branch staff, and lobbyists. Lobbyists would also be banned from lobbying the Legislature for two years in addition to any criminal penalties if they lied to a Legislative committee, under the bill.

Reps. Anne "Pinny" Beebe-Center, D-Rockland; Owen Casas, independent of Rockport; and John Spear, D-South Thomaston, voted against the bill.

"It seemed to be more of a tactic to intimidate people who would testify at public hearings, than a needed tool for gaining accurate testimony," Beebe-Center said Thursday.

Spear said the bill went too far, pointing out that it would be subjective to say what is a material fact if a citizen testified at a hearing and left something out during a three-minute presentation. He said he favored a version of the law that limited the requirement to lobbyists.

Casas agreed.

"It is the people's house. People should feel that they can come in a give us their thoughts without fear that they might be prosecuted if they confuse a date or forget to bring up a point. We are the Legislature, not a court," Casas said.

Republican Reps. Paula Sutton of Warren and Abden Simmons of Waldoboro voted to support the legislation.

"I feel that if we are expected to make laws we need to be fully informed and need to be able to rely on the data we are being presented as truthful and accurate. I have personally witnessed blatant lying to committees and know that it is happening," Sutton said.

"There is no way we can properly do our jobs as legislators without reliable and comprehensive data. The public also needs to have faith and confidence in what happens in the capital. Perhaps, this would help improve our appearance if only slightly to the general public who generally hold a low opinion on politicians and the process," she said.

The state Senate has not yet voted on the bill.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | May 18, 2017 15:51

We have laws that supposedly stop politicians from lying to the public that are not enforced  so why expect Joe Citizen to be honest. Washington couldn't lie, Nixon couldn't tell the truth and Trump doesn't know the difference.

Posted by: Chris Mcintosh | May 18, 2017 11:41

Should state legislators lying to the public also be a crime?

Posted by: Stephen Betts | May 18, 2017 11:18

I've updated the story to include a link to the wording of the bill.

Posted by: Shawn Levasseur | May 18, 2017 10:57

I don't know the details of this bill, but my fear is that it could be used as a mechanism for officials to punish political opponents, and discourage people from speaking to legislative committees. Even if convictions would be hard to come by, the very threat the time and expense of legal actions could chill political participation.



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