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Who is behind the controversial regulatory takings bill?

The attorney who has been a driving force behind a controversial bill relating to state regulation's effects on private property values has not registered as a lobbyist and is not revealing who she is representing.

Cathy Connors, a partner at lobbying powerhouse Pierce Atwood, drafted the so-called "takings bill" and now serves on the study committee tasked with recommending revisions to the proposed legislation, which environmental groups say would effectively freeze land use regulations for the benefit of developers. However, she maintains she did not need to register as a lobbyist during the last legislative session.

Even if she had, she would be relieved of reporting requirements when serving on the study commission, on account of a large, little-noticed loophole created at the lobbying industry's request in 2008.

Proponents of so-called "takings legislation" argue that laws should compel states to compensate landowners for having to comply with land use laws. Across the country, conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have backed legislation that, in its most aggressive form, would force states to compensate landowners retroactively. In Oregon this resulted in some $20 billion in claims against the state between 2004 (when state lawmakers passed such a bill) and 2007 (when they repealed it). In 1995, Maine lawmakers rejected a bill that then Attorney General Andrew Ketterer warned would "spawn extraordinary, even unprecedented, amounts of litigation involving potentially staggering fiscal impacts," setting up a mediation process instead.

With Republicans in control in Augusta, supporters of takings bills are making another go of it. Connors, who wrote the 1995 takings bill, drafted a new act, LD 1477, which was introduced this past legislative session by assistant house majority leader (and ALEC member) Andre Cushing (R-Hampden). Although the bill would only have applied to new regulations — and was supported by Governor Paul LePage — it failed to receive the endorsement of a key committee and was referred to a study group instead. The group — guided by Connors, who was appointed to it by House Speaker Bob Nutting and Senate President Kevin Raye — is expected to recommend a revised bill before lawmakers reconvene in Augusta next month.

It's hard to overstate Connors's role in the process. A leading takings attorney, she drafted the bill, championed it to lawmakers, and testified before them representing, in her words, "a broad coalition of landowners, large and small," who were not further identified. Correspondence between the study commission members shows she has often taken a leading role in their deliberations, including the distribution of a "cheat sheet" of proposed recommendations.

"Connors has been the principal advocate and speaker on behalf of the majority throughout the process," says another study group member, Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposed LD 1477. "She's testified, she's prepared memos for work sessions of the legislative committee, she's lobbied legislators throughout the process, and worked to shape the study bill language and resolve."

By Maine law, individuals "employed by another person" for the purpose of "drafting, introduction, consideration, modification, or defeat of any bill, resolution, amendment [or] report" for at least eight hours of any calendar month must register as a lobbyist and disclose who they represent. But Connor maintains she did not have to register, and did not elaborate on Pierce Atwood's grounds for this position.

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