The Maine Press Association is opposing a high-profile bill in the Legislature that would take the information in concealed-weapons permits out of the public realm, and a proposal in the governor’s budget to end the longstanding sales-tax exemption for newspapers.
The MPA offered testimony against the concealed-weapons bill before the Judiciary Committee on March 12. It testified against the sales-tax proposal in a hearing of the Taxation and Appropriations committees on March 13.
The hearing on L.D. 345 drew a crowd of gun-rights supporters, who expressed concern to the Judiciary Committee that personal information contained in concealed-weapons permits makes permit holders vulnerable when it is accessible to the public, including newspapers.
The MPA, represented at the hearing by Mike Mahoney of Federle Mahoney, argued in oral and written testimony that the information has been public since 1981, without incident, that the information is in the public interest and that the Judiciary Committee should base its consideration of the proposed exception to the Freedom of Access Act on criteria in the law, not the emotion of today’s gun-rights debate.
The Maine Freedom of Access Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine joined the MPA in opposing the bill, noting that public access to the information helps to ensure that law enforcement screens permit applicants adequately.
The Judiciary Committee, which will make a recommendation to the Legislature, has a work session on the bill scheduled for 1 p.m. April 3 in Room 438 of the State House. MPA members are encouraged to get involved.
Testifying for the MPA, Mahoney told the Taxation and Appropriations committees that a new 5 percent sales tax on newspapers would be discriminatory by singling out publications, and suggested a comprehensive review of Maine’s 94 current tax exemptions. He also noted the logistical problems posed by collecting the tax – including through honor boxes and independent contractors – the fact that it would be a tax on information, and its impact on elderly, low-income and rural residents who lack Internet access.
Also testifying against the tax was Kevin Webb, publisher of Uncle Henry’s, who emphasized the economic impact of making his publication more expensive, discouraging buyers and in turn cutting into revenue and threatening the jobs he provides.
The next step will be a work session by the Taxation Committee, which ultimately will recommend to the Appropriations Committee whether to leave the proposal in the budget.