(Pictured: 2022 Maine County Teachers of the Year sit in Maine’s House of Representatives for Mock Legislature Day.)
For many, the legislative process, at both the state and federal level, can feel like an unwieldy space where the further you dig in, the harder it can be to understand or even attempt to navigate the first steps to participating and creating change.
Some of Maine’s educators got the chance to experience Maine’s legislative process first-hand recently in a mock legislature day hosted by Educate Maine, Unum, the Maine Principals Association, UNE Online, and other Maine organizations interested in amplifying voices from Maine’s education workforce.
The opportunity is provided as part of a professional development program called Education Leaders Experience (ELE) that was developed by Unum and administered by Educate Maine. This is the eleventh year of ELE. Joining this year’s ELE cohort were the 2022 County Teachers of the Year, a group of teacher leaders from every county in Maine whose goal is to represent and raise the voices of educators from their region. Also present were partners from the Maine Department of Education and former and current legislators who served as mentors throughout the day.
“I’m tremendously grateful to everyone who helped make this experience possible,” said Matt Bernstein a Social Studies Teacher at Casco Bay High school and the 2023 Maine Teacher of the Year.
Leading up to Mock Legislature Day educators participating were assigned “roles” to prepare for and play in a day filled with regular proceedings that happen at the height of Maine’s legislative session1. The day focused on two education-related pieces of legislation from the last legislative session: LD 1939 – An Act To Protect School Administration Officials From Harassment And Abuse, and LD 1373 – An Act to Keep All Maine Students Safe by Restricting the Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools. Each participant played either a legislator: those serving on a legislative committee2, voting, the bill sponsor3, and some with a specific status like committee chair, or they played a stakeholder either in favor of the bill or against it.
“I went into policy day feeling out of my element despite great preparation,” said Ashley Bryant a 4th-grade teacher at Sacopee Valley Middle School and the 2022 Oxford County Teacher of the Year.
Educators spent the first part of the day gathered in the very seats of the Maine House of Representatives learning about Maine’s budgeting process, going over the steps of the day, and hearing from current and former legislators who took part in the Mock Legislature Day as mentors. The group also got the chance to hear Maine Senate President Troy Jackson talk about his story of becoming a Maine legislator, his process for decision-making, and his priorities as a policymaker.
“I appreciated the exposure to the experience of our representatives working on policy and the respected decorum involved among our Maine policymakers as they work to craft laws,” said Emily Albee, a high school social studies teacher at Hampton Academy and the 2022 Penobscot County Teacher of the Year.
The second part of the day is where the real action took place as educators played their assigned roles in committee hearings4 as each of the bills was introduced, testimony5 was read, and clarifying questions were asked. Following the committee hearing were work sessions6 where the day’s mock legislators continued to dig into the bill, going through additional questions they had and proposing and voting on possible amendments to the original bill. During both sessions, participants walked through the formal steps, stopping every so often for questions and for the legislative mentors to make sure everyone knew what to do next.
“I enjoyed being involved with ed policy at the committee level and witnessing how vital public participation is with the policy-making process,” added Albee.
The day ended with everyone back in the Maine House of Representatives where the mock legislators got the chance to speak on each of the bills and then cast their individual votes on each of the bills they worked on that day.
“Being able to participate in this process, from providing testimony to debating the pros and cons of a bill on the House floor, has truly shown me how much our voices matter,” said Heather Anderson a social studies teacher at Caribou Community School and the 2022 Aroostook County Teacher of the Year.
The day ended with participants making connections with colleagues state-wide having gone through an experience together and, for a day, they got to meet with experiencing the lives of policymakers which gave them a glimpse into how Maine’s Legislative process works but more importantly how vital their experiences and perspectives are in the process.
“Just like we strive to do with our students, we all learned and benefited from doing,” said Bryant. “Being part of a mock legislative day made me understand the process by participating in the process. I now know the steps it takes for a bill to become a law, but most importantly, I know how to make my voice matter and get involved in the process.”
“I left the day feeling motivated and inspired,” added Bernstein. “I’m eager to continue learning and growing and to share my experiences with my students in an effort to amplify their powerful and important voices and to support their ongoing efforts to positively impact our communities and our State.”
- Maine’s Legislative Season: Maine’s Legislature meets annually in “regular session” (first Wednesday in December after the general election – through June), and there is a “second regular session” which convenes in January of the subsequent even-numbered year – through April). The First Regular Session of the 131st Maine Legislature (the current session) convened Wednesday, December 7, 2022, and is set to adjourn on June 21, 2023.
- Committee: see a listing of Maine’s legislative committees
- Bill Sponsor: A legislator decides to sponsor a bill, sometimes at the suggestion of a constituent, interest group, public official, or the Governor.
- Committee Hearing: Where proposed bills are introduced to legislative committees by bill sponsors and the public gets the chance to provide comments (a.k.a. testimony). Most education-related bills are introduced to the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. See a schedule of upcoming committee meetings here.
- Testimony: Anyone can provide public comment either for, against, or neither for nor against a bill during Maine legislative committee hearings, either in person, virtually via video live stream, or in writing:
- Learn more about testifying in person here.
- Learn more about submitting testimony in writing or participating via video here.
- Work Session: Less formal committee meetings than public hearings, held primarily for committee deliberation and voting on bills and other committee matters.