A Possible ME Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations

Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland,  measure would establish a commission of policymakers and other stakeholders to examine the status of and promote improved opportunities for the state’s racial and ethnic populations. The commission would be required to report its findings and recommendations to the Legislature every two years beginning in 2018.

“In the absence of any state agency or public entity specifically charged with addressing issues related to our racial and ethnic populations, it is critical to have a non-partisan group that will do this on an ongoing basis,” said Rep. Talbot Ross. “Even if a state agency or positions were created to do this work, the need for an independent, transparent commission would not be less significant or valuable.”

Research indicates social, educational, health and economic disparities for racial and ethnic populations in Maine. For example, African-American and Hispanic or Latino Mainers are experiencing unemployment rates more than double the state average and, according to the 2011 Maine Racial Justice Policy Guide, the median income for every other racial group in Maine is at least $10,000 lower than the income for white Mainers. That report also found that every county in Maine saw double-digit percentage growth in the number of people of color living there between 2000 and 2010.

A similar entity, Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, was created by the Legislature in 2009 to assume many of the same responsibilities that were carried out by the Governor’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women and later the Maine Commission for Womenbetween 1964 and 1991. The commission gathers information and develops policy recommendations that reflect the challenges and opportunities faced by Maine women. Talbot Ross’s bill seeks to develop similar ongoing efforts for racial and ethnic populations.

Like the existing commission on the status of women, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Populations would be administered by the Department of the Secretary of State. Its goals would include gathering data and studying income levels, business ownership, household assets, housing and employment among other factors and to formulate recommendations to bridge the wealth gap experienced by historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic populations.

The measure, LD 1008, faces further votes in the Senate. 

Talbot Ross is serving her first term in the Maine House. A member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, she represents part of Portland, including the neighborhoods of Parkside, Bayside, East Bayside, Oakdale and the University of Southern Maine campus.