Saturday, May 25, 2024

Baizou Report: 131st Legislature Tackles TikTok, Chinese Tech, But Leaves Triad Weed Unscathed – The Maine Wire

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The influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Maine emerged as a pressing concern during the final session of the 131st Legislature.

Although CCP influence was already an issue across the country, it came into sharp focus more recently, with Chinese tech posing potential security risks, CCP affiliated entities buying land across the country, Chinese foreign nationals entering the country illegally in unprecedented numbers, and hundreds of illegal Chinese marijuana grow sites operated throughout Maine.

Maine legislators made multiple attempts to combat CCP influence, with varying degrees of success.

Chinese Tech:

Last summer, Rep. Nathan Carlow (R-Buxton) championed a bill barring any state owned devices from accessing TikTok, a Chinese owned social media site which has been used by the CCP to gather sensitive information from Americans and spread propaganda.

[RELATED: Potential TikTok Ban Passes U.S. House of Reps with Strong Bipartisan Support…]

Rep. Carlow’s bill, LD 1007, was co-sponsored by multiple Republicans, and received strong bipartisan support.

In June, the bill received unanimous support in the senate, before it eventually became law in July.

The bill did not, however, receive the support of Gov. Janet Mills (D-Maine) who chose not to sign the bill, but did not veto it, instead allowing it to become law without her signature.

“TikTok isn’t just a video-hosting mobile application, it is a clear and present danger to our national security,” said Carlow while testifying in favor of the bill.

Following the law’s adoption, state employees were forbidden from even accessing TikTok from state computers, with exceptions provided for law enforcement which may need to access the site to gather evidence for ongoing investigations.

Later, during the 131st Legislature’s second regular session, Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford) sponsored a similar bill which went much further than the TikTok ban.

[RELATED: Chinese Communist Crackdown: Maine House Approves Bill Preventing State Contracts With Foreign Adversaries…]

Sen. Keim’s bill, LD 877, takes aim at any companies which originate in states considered foreign adversaries, including China, Iran, and North Korea.

Under Keim’s bill, state and local government will be forbidden from contracting with any businesses based out of foreign companies which are deemed a threat to national security.

The bill also prevents state and local government from using or acquiring information from tech and communication companies based in hostile nations.

Keim’s bill was, in part, inspired by a 2017 Chinese law requiring all Chinese tech companies to provide sensitive information gathered from users to the CCP upon request.

Currently, the state of Maine uses many computers manufactured by the Chinese Tech company Lenovo, which is known to pose a risk to national security.

As the CCP has targeted local governments with its espionage programs, Keim has championed her bill as a way for local government to fight back and defend national security directly.

“I am recognizing the increasing threat that China is to the U.S. and at the local level. And it’s not something that local governments, state governments are generally accustomed. We’re not accustomed to thinking about our foreign adversaries and national security. But national security is now a matter of state interest because we are being targeted on the state level,” said Keim, speaking to The Maine Wire.

That bill passed through the house last week with strong, bipartisan support, but has not yet been signed into law.

Triad Weed:

While Maine’s legislature made progress in stopping Chinese espionage in the state, Democrats maintained their opposition to bills intended to crackdown on the illegal Chinese marijuana grow sites in Maine.

Some efforts were rejected by Democrats on the Legislative Council before they could even be considered as bills.

Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Philips), who is currently campaigning to become the U.S. representative for Maine’s second congressional district, sponsored one proposal killed by Democrats.

[RELATED: Republican Rep. Appeals Legislative Committee’s Rejection of Proposal to Enforce Maine’s Cannabis Laws…]

Soboleski’s bill was meant to address the failure of law enforcement to stop the illegal activities of Chinese criminals.

It would have ordered an investigation into Maine’s cannabis laws, and ensured that they were being properly enforced.

“Our cannabis laws are in place for a reason, and as such need to be properly and thoroughly enforced, and an investigation would give us the data to examine which laws are not being followed,” said Soboleski.

Since Soboleski’s proposal failed, fewer than 40 of over 270 illegal Chinese weed grow sites have been raided by police.

Another proposal, from House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham (R-Winter Harbor), suffered the same fate as Soboleski’s.

Rep. Faulkingham’s proposed bill would have prevented non-citizens from participating in Maine’s cannabis industry, but it was shot down by the Legislative Council.

Only a single bill targeting Triad Weed passed through the Legislative Council, before it was ultimately killed in the larger legislature.

[RELATED: Maine Republican Proposes Bill to Crack Down on Blackmarket Chinese Drug Houses…]

LD 2204, proposed by Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris), would have taken numerous steps to aid law enforcement in cracking down on the illegal operations.

It would have stopped new Chinese weed farms from cropping up, rooted out already existing operations, and empowered prosecutors to punish the criminals involved.

The bill would have prohibited foreign nationals hailing from hostile nations from purchasing any real-estate in Maine, thereby preventing Chinese nationals from purchasing rural houses and converting them into weed farms.

As part of the process of converting a house into a weed farm, criminals have to increase its electrical capacity significantly in order to power various apparatus such as grow lights and watering mechanisms.

Andrews’ bill would have required electrical companies to flag all residences with suspiciously high electrical bills, helping law enforcement identify the criminal operations.

That portion of the bill raised concerns among some conservatives, who feared that it constituted unjust surveillance.

However, power companies already keep records of electrical usage, and provide that information upon government request, even without Andrews’ bill.

Under Andrews’ bill, Maine would establish a “little RICO” clause, allowing anyone involved in any level of criminal activities as part of a criminal enterprise, such as the triad grows throughout the state, to be charged with the Class A Felony Racketeering.

It would also have taken steps to mitigate the damage done by the Chinese criminals, allowing the state to confiscate the houses used as grow sites.

The state would then restore the houses to a livable condition, and sell them to Mainers looking for a place to live.

Initially, Andrews’ bill was regarded favorably, and passed through work sessions in the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety with an “ought to pass as amended” vote from the majority.

When the bill appeared before the house, however, it failed with an 84-61 vote.

Although the vote was split largely along party lines, six Republicans voted against the bill and three Democrats broke with their party to support it.

Due to Democrat opposition, the 131st Legislature concluded its final session having done nothing to address Chinese organized crime throughout the state.

Mills has been silent on the proliferation of Chinese crime in her state, and has ignored multiple requests to comment on the issue from The Maine Wire.

[RELATED: Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ Brother Helped Transfer Nine-Acre Black Market Cannabis Grow to Chinese National “Mother” Living in Guangdong Province: Triad Weed…]

Last Month, The Maine Wire published a report revealing that Paul Mills, the governor’s eldest brother, provided transfer services for a Chinese national transferring ownership of a property used as an illegal weed grow operation to his mother living in Guangdong province, China.

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