Amended withdrawal bill fails to decrease voter turnout requirement for RSU 20 towns
Augusta — An amended withdrawal bill would not impact the voter turnout requirement for towns seeking to leave Regional School Unit 20.
The amendment applies to LD 783, "An Act To Change the Voting Requirements for the Withdrawal of a Municipality from a Regional School Unit," which had sought to reduce the voter turnout requirement under the existing withdrawal statute.
Under the existing withdrawal statute, at least 50 percent of the voters who cast a ballot in the previous gubernatorial election must cast a vote either for or against withdrawal and a simple majority will pass or reject the effort.
Because of the 50-percent voter-turnout provision, Belfast, Belmont, Northport and Swanville failed in their efforts to withdraw from RSU 20 in 2013, despite the majority of the votes being in favor of leaving the district.
Legislators then introduced a bill that would eliminate the 50-percent voter-turnout requirement starting Jan. 1, 2015, and instead require a 2/3 majority vote without a specific voter-turnout requirement.
However, the House and Senate recently approved an amended version of LD 783 that would repeal the 2/3 majority vote and instead reinstate the 50-percent voter-turnout requirement, unless the town seeking to withdraw was part of a School Administrative District that was reformed as an RSU.
In that case, the voter-turnout requirement would be reduced to 45 percent. However, the reduced turnout would only apply to districts such as RSU 3, which included the same towns after the 2009 consolidation as it did prior to consolidation.
Belfast attorney Kristin Collins was critical of the legislation because it would not help the towns in RSU 20 as they look to leave the district.
"As it relates to us in particular, it has no effect," Collins said of the amended bill.
The bill also contains a provision that restricts a withdrawal petition being filed for two years if the municipal vote on a petition for withdrawal receives less than 45 percent of the votes cast, or if the withdrawal agreement receives less than 60 percent of the votes cast during the municipal vote, according to the text of the amendment.
The House of Representatives passed the bill to be enacted on Wednesday, Feb. 26, and the Senate passed the bill to be enacted on Feb. 26, as well.
Because the bill was introduced as an emergency measure, it would go into effect as soon as it is enacted by the legislature.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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