The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday (May 12) killed a bill that would have banned recreational vehicles from parking overnight at commercial lots after lawmakers were inundated with e-mails from people opposed to the idea.
The House rejected the bill at the request of its sponsor, state Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, who said she received an estimated 200 e-mails from irate RV owners around the country since the proposal was first publicized, according to the Kennebec Journal.
Perry said while she and other lawmakers received some informative messages that helped sway her decision to kill the measure, not all were pleasant, or polite.
“A lot of the e-mails I got were nasty, name-calling e-mails,” Perry said. “If those were the only things I had gotten, honestly, I think I would have stuck my feet in and passed this bill.”
The proposal pitted the owners of local RV parks and campgrounds that charge a fee for overnight camping against retail giants like Wal-Mart, which allow RV owners to camp overnight for free.
Last week, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-2 to endorse the bill, LD 114, prompting a huge outcry from RV owners and advocates who threatened to boycott the state if the law was adopted.
Among those who chimed in was William J. Ryan Jr., president of the Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford.
“If passed, this bill will close Oxford Plains Speedway after its 50-plus-year history,” Ryan wrote in a mass e-mail to all lawmakers. “Each year we depend on people that park in their RVs in our parking lot to attend our races so that we can stay in business. It would be sad to see my business fail due to this bill.”
Ryan contended in another e-mail to lawmakers that the bill would likely also hurt Wiscasset Raceway, Unity Raceway, Speedway 95 in Hermon and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
Pretty much every elected official received e-mail on the issue, including Gov. John Baldacci.
“The governor’s office received hundreds of e-mails about the proposed legislation, many of them very passionate in their content,” said David Farmer, Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff. “Both proponents of the bill and opponents raised legitimate issues, and the administration will continue to work with (Perry) and other stakeholders to enhance tourism, including camping and RVing in Maine … I think this is a good example of political leaders responding when presented with new information.”
Bob Zagami, a freelance writer, photographer and consultant to the RV industry, said the proposed Maine law was discussed on RV websites and written about by bloggers. The RVers who tour through Maine and use free overnight spots as sort of base camps spend a lot of money, said Zagami.
And RVers would have stayed out of Maine should the law have passed, he said. The state would have lost more money from tourists who stayed away than they ever would have gained from increasing lodging tax receipts, he suggested.
“They will boycott the state, they don’t have to go to the state of Maine,” said Zagami. “That’s a powerful group of people.”
Ryan, of Oxford Plains Speedway, said many race car drivers, their crew members and fans will stay on his property during a race.
The Speedway has 40 events a year, he said. On any given race night, there will be between 50 and 100 RVs on his 150 acres. For many, it’s a matter of convenience, said Ryan. The races end at 9 or 10 p.m., and it’s easier for many to just stay overnight.
Perry, who filed the bill for a constituent who owns a campground, said what happened to her bill illustrates “the wonderful part of transparency.”
“You don’t always know what the unintended consequences are,” she said.
State Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, said the bill was a “classic case” of unintended consequences.
Strang Burgess voted against the bill in the Health and Human Services Committee. She said she viewed it as a local issue, to be addressed by municipalities.
Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which had supported the measure, said he had encouraged Perry to withdraw the bill. No matter how the bill started, it effectively targeted campers, said Abare.
“We never thought that should happen,” he said. “The bill was wrong, basically, from the get-go, in that light.”