AUGUSTA – The Maine House of Representatives yesterday voted along party lines with Democrats voting to gut a bill aimed at protecting free speech on Maine’s college campuses after a floor debate that included one of the legislative session’s stranger moments.
Republicans opposed gutting the bill in favor of passing the original language brought forward in the bill.
Designed to protect the free expression of college students, the bill’s language would have prohibited any public institution of higher education in Maine from restricting any “expressive activity”, which basically means any expression of free speech on a college campus as long as that activity is lawful and does not disrupt the functioning of the institution.
At one point during the floor debate,
when the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Andrews (R – Paris) was speaking to the
merits of his original proposal, another member of the body began shouting for
a ‘point of order.’
That representative was Rep. Deane Rykerson (D – Kittery) who was, apparently, objecting to Rep. Andrews’ use of the phrase “natural rights” in his floor speech. You can watch the moment in the video below.
Upon being asked what his point of
order was, Rep. Rykerson said, “This body defends the constitution, not natural
In response, Rep. Andrews reminded Rep.
Rykerson that the Constitution was constructed to protect natural rights
saying, “Just in response to that, the Bill of Rights is actually a restriction
on government, to protect natural rights.”
Rep. Andrews response to Rykerson and his speech, however, did not sway Democrats who opposed the original bill to protect free speech.
In the place of the language in the
bill, Democrats chose to amend the bill to have the Attorney General conduct a
study of free speech to determine if the law was needed.
Andrews said the process of creating
the study was going to add a cost to the bill, which was likely to give
opponents a reason to kill it by not funding it later in the session.