AUGUSTA — Among the many bills Gov. Mills signed into law June 17 was one that seems to have escaped general notice: LD 1522, An Act To Update and Eliminate References in Statute to Aldermen, Selectmen and Overseers of the Poor.

Bill sponsor Rep. Vicki Doudera, a Camden Democrat who also represents Rockport and Islesboro in the Maine House, succeeded in formalizing what increasing numbers of Maine and Waldo County municipalities have been doing — or considering doing — on their own in recent years: gender-neutralizing some of the legal names in municipal government — names established long ago by Massachusetts and then Maine state law.

What’s new:

  • Board of selectmen is now a select board.
  • Selectman is a municipal officer.
  • Alderman is a municipal officer.
  • Overseer of the poor is simply an overseer.
  • First selectman is now chair of the municipal officers or chair of the select board.
  • Second selectman is now vice chair of the municipal officers or select board.

Doudera told The Republican Journal July 14 that her bill came about when Debra Hall, then chair of the Rockport Select Board, discussed the issue with Josh Gerritsen, who had led an effort to informally adopt the gender-neutral term “Select Board” in Lincolnville.

“And then she reached out to me and gave me the idea,” Doudera said. “I said, ‘That’s a great idea!’”

She began researching it. “What I found was sort of a patchwork. Some towns were voting to adopt it, and then some weren’t — they were worried about the legality of it. So that’s why I figured it’s just time to get rid of some of these archaic terms.”

In her May 7 testimony before the Committee on State and Local Government, Doudera noted that for almost two centuries, portions of Maine were governed by the acts and resolves of the Massachusetts General Court, and many of those laws remain in effect in Maine today.

“LD 1522 seeks to modernize some of this archaic language in our state statutes to reflect the reality as it exists today in Maine,” she testified. “It will update and eliminate references in statute to ‘Overseers of the Poor,’ as well as ‘Aldermen’ and ‘Selectmen.’”

The term “selectmen” was first used in 1635, she pointed out, “and today, despite the numbers of Maine women who are active in every level of government, the term still remains on the books.”

Her bill also called for references to “Overseers of the Poor” to be eliminated. “This 17th century terminology is outdated, and today’s Select Board members already administer general assistance funds for those in financial need without a term reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ days,” she told the committee.

Hall also testified in favor of the bill on behalf of herself and Josh Gerritsen, Lincolnville Select Board; Sarah Ann Smith, chair, Hope Select Board; Alison McKellar, vice chair, Camden Select Board; Denise Munger, vice chair, Rockport Select Board; Sarah Austin, Rockland City Council; Louise MacLellan-Ruf, Rockland City Council; Sandra E. Moore, Thomaston Select Board; and Zel Bowman-Laberge and Diane Giese, both of the Thomaston Select Board.

LD 1522 contained 13 pages of black-lined changes in Maine laws pertaining to municipal governments. Some changes scrapped outdated wording, changing “shall” to “must,” for example; others eliminated masculine pronouns, most notably in paragraphs covering the responsibilities of a road commissioner, assumed to be a male.

The reality of municipal government today in Maine, Doudera told The Journal, “is that there are many, many women in municipal positions, so why not reflect that?” In Knox County, where Doudera lives, she said there are more than two dozen elected female municipal officials, at least six of whom lead their select boards as chairs and vice chairs.

“Words really do matter, and what we call each other matters, and that’s why this was important to me,” she said. “And I’m really glad Debra suggested it.”

For more information on LD 1522, visit http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/display_ps.asp?ld=1522&PID=1456&snum=130#.