Monday, May 23, 2011

Update: DeCoster bill loses key supporter

Here in Maine, the legislature is in session, and one of the stories I've been following is the fate of a bill to help the infamous Maine-based egg magnate, Jack DeCoster, by denying his workers the right to collectively bargain.

In case you've forgotten, Mr. DeCoster was in the national spotlight last summer, when a massive salmonella outbreak was traced back to his Iowa-based farms, and the national media started piecing together his companies' staggeringly long rap sheet of health, safety, immigration, labor, and environmental violations. I have a story on this in the forthcoming Down East, and wrote about the erroneous testimony given before the Maine legislature's labor committee here at World Wide Woodard last week. [Update, 5/24/2011: my Down East story has posted online.]

Now that bill may be in trouble. The chair of the labor committee, Sen. Chris Rector (R-Thomaston), was apparently not pleased to learn that DeCoster's companies' recent record in Maine isn't as sterling as legislators were led to believe. "I have changed my position and am opposing the bill," he told me this morning. "The testimony we received was not full and complete. We did not get the whole story."

Sen. Rector said DeCoster's allegedly respectable OSHA record was "critically important" to the decision to back the bill, LD 1207, which passed the labor committee on a 7-6 party line vote. "To discover that that was not really the case have me great pause." He said he'd be working to defeat the bill in one of a variety of ways. He also noted that, unlike Congress, legislators lack research staff and rely on committee testimony when considering legislation.

This raises another issue: unlike, say, the committees of the Portland City Council, the legislative committees don't post online the (usually written) testimonies they receive so that journalists and others might have an opportunity to scrutinize them and, perhaps, point out falsehoods. Indeed, staff apparently don't have access to scanners to digitize documents, so obtaining records of testimony is difficult, and paper files are often missing submissions. Time, perhaps, to join the 21st century and post PDFs of everything online.


  1. Most legislative committees require those there to testify at a public hearing submit 20 print copies of their testimony. There is no reason why the committee not to demand a pdf of the testimony too.

    And even better - the committees should begin to archive the audio of the hearings themselves, since often those testifying are asked questions, whether at the public hearings or the work sessions.

    Not everyone can make it to Augusta every day, nor to every committee hearing; such hearings are often scheduled at the same tim.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree, particularly on archiving testimony audio.

  3. It's encouraging that Senator Rector isn't just rubber stamping another "pro-business" bill. What's the protocol for dealing with false, incomplete or misleading testimony?