I have enjoyed every minute of being a legislator. It is a huge and humbling honor to represent the people who live in Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, part of Richmond, and my own town of Woolwich. Having been on the job for about two months, here’s a little taste of what it’s like to be a freshman legislator.
First, after nearly a year of being a candidate, I jumped right in as a legislator. I was sworn in less than a month after the election, and was expected to submit every bill I want to pursue over the next two years by the end of December. Fortunately, the nonpartisan revisor’s office in the State House does an extremely competent and professional job turning bill titles and summaries into legislative lingo. There are revisions, co-sponsors, public hearings, and work sessions before the full Legislature ever gets to consider any given bill.
Even though bills submitted may be of little consequence to some people, they can matter a great deal to those impacted. A bill I submitted to provide services to people with traumatic brain injuries is one example. I was asked to submit the bill by a constituent whose son suffered a traumatic brain injury. While he fortunately made a full recovery, there are still a variety of services that are needed, including medical staff and educators to help patients and their friends and family understand all of the ramifications brain injuries can have on someone’s life. This bill specifically seeks to target underserved populations, especially the growing number of survivors of opioid overdoses. This issue hits close to home, as my first husband died of a traumatic brain injury following a fall at a workplace.
Other bills I’m sponsoring focus on workforce development incentives and a sales tax adjustment for printed newspapers. I don’t have the final answer on these issues, which is why I look forward to public hearings, feedback, and work sessions. I believe that more voices are better than one.
I also have co-sponsored a number of bills, not because I necessarily support the bill, but because they are conversations about public policy that I believe are worth having, even if the final outcome is not how it started. It’s also a matter of balancing the public good against the public costs – always.
Another important job is committee work. Every legislator serves on at least one legislative committee, and I am honored to be serving on the Marine Resources Committee. In response to the various bills that are coming before us, I seek out those in our area who know more about these issues than I do, which is mainly the people who will be affected by them. It’s just common sense, especially in a citizen legislature like ours, and it’s been enormously helpful to me as a newcomer. Colleagues in the Legislature also sponsor speakers in “lunch and learn” sessions on a variety of topics. Plus, there’s always something going on that fills the Hall of Flags with exhibits and literature on issues that matter to Mainers.
The core of this job is the communication I have with my district, and this has been by far the most rewarding aspect. It also suits the historian in me who wants to find answers. I’ve heard from constituents with concerns about MaineCare, road maintenance, CBD regulations, health insurance costs, heating assistance, and new license plates, to name a few. It’s rewarding to find answers, to troubleshoot, and mostly to listen. I’ve learned the most from listening to those I represent.
The rest of my days are spent attending events and meetings in our district. From meeting with social service agencies, educational facilities, citizen groups, and new businesses, I am able to get a sense of what their needs are. All of these businesses and organizations are in Maine because they want to be here and want this place we love to succeed. We are all in this together, my friends, so we may as well learn from one another.
My ask of you is this: Help me advocate for you, or at least hear you. Look up proposed bills and issues that matter to you and get in touch. I can help you get ready to come up and testify on a bill or submit written testimony, or simply share your thoughts with me so I can better judge an issue when it comes my way.
(Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, represents Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, part of Richmond, and Woolwich. She sits on the Marine Resources Committee.)