Sunday, June 28, 2015

Testimony: An Act To Prohibit Unauthorized Custody Transfers of Children

Testimony of Representative Craig V. Hickman on LD 1342, An Act To Prohibit Unauthorized Custody Transfers of Children Before the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary, May 21, 2015

Senator Burns, Representative Hobbins, and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary, I am Representative Craig Hickman of Winthrop and I represent District 81, Winthrop, Readfield, and a part of North Monmouth at the foot of Mt. Pisgah. Today, I come before you to present LD 1342, An Act To Prohibit Unauthorized Custody Transfers of Children.

As some of you may know, I am an adopted person. My parents, Hazelle and Minnie Hickman, may they rest in peace, chose me to be a part of their family when I was a sixteen-month-old baby named Joseph Bernard White. The story behind my adoption reads almost like a soap opera and yet it was typical of a time when young girls went away to have babies in secret, when young girls were coerced to surrender their children for adoption, when young girls, broken-hearted and catatonic, returned to their communities wounded for life.

My birth mother got pregnant on February 14, 1967, while at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama. Her mother didn’t want her unwed daughter’s pregnancy to stain the family name, so she sent her away to live alone in a room on the second floor of a home in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was born on December 8. As my birth mother recalled, thirty-three years later, when I showed up on her doorstep unannounced, after a 6-year search to find her, she told me her story: 

“It was like being on death row, son, and I had one last request before they took you away. They weren’t supposed to let me, but I demanded that I have a moment with you in the room with no doctors, no nurses, no brothers, no parents, no technicians, no one. But the laws in the state of Wisconsin forbade such a request. Birth mothers couldn’t see, much less hold, their children after delivery if they had already consented to give them up. But I told them that rules were meant to be broken, and who would find out about it anyway? So, I held you in my arms and looked you in your eyes and said, ‘You look just like your father. Someday you will grow up to be a handsome and smart man, son. But I may not get to see any of it because Mommy has to go away now. I have no choice. 

But I remember the story of Joseph from the Bible. How his brothers sold him into slavery and how he was lost from his brothers and his father for all those years. And then he became ruler of Egypt. And during the great famine when his brothers came to him to get food, he recognized them, but he didn’t let them know who he was. When he finally let them know, he told them to go and get Jacob because he wanted to be reunited with his father before his father died. And they were. And so I name you Joseph, because I know that someday, you’ll come back to me. Someday, you will find me. I don’t know if I’ll be living or dead, but I know you will find me. Just as Joseph in the Bible was reunited with his family, so shall you also be reunited with me. I just know it. Someday.”

Three days later, I was in foster care. Just over a year after that, my parents came to Madison on a camping trip, picked me up from the foster home, took me back to Milwaukee to join their adopted daughter, my sister, Gina, changed my name to Craig Von Hickman, and the rest is history. 

As much as I love my parents and my sister, as good as my parents were to both of us, I always wanted to know where I came from. And so when I was old enough to search for my biological parents, I did. I had to. I couldn’t reach my full potential in life without the knowledge of my genesis.

For the past 20 years, I have been involved in adoptee rights issues. In fact, it was this committee, back in 2005, where I first testified before any legislative body on a bill that would allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates, which had been sealed when their adoptions were finalized, just like mine had been. Then, as now, Representative Hobbins was a chair of this committee. Throughout my search for my birth parents and my involvement in adoptee rights issues, a disenchanting reality revealed itself to me. For all the talk of doing what is in the best interest of the child, children are not always well served by the institutions that are supposed to protect them, and adult adoptees are treated like second-class citizens by law and by adoption agency policies in far too many situations. Fortunately, some of these injustices have been corrected but too many of them remain.

Today, I stand before you and ask that you correct another. When my childhood friend, Governor Scott Walker, signed into law last year a bill that would prohibit the unauthorized custody transfer of adopted children to nonrelatives, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to outlaw what has come to be called rehoming. Now, other states are following suit. It’s time for Maine to join them.

Later, you will hear the harrowing experience of a young woman who was rehomed. As with all adoptees, so much of her story unfolded against her will. Imagine being shipped across oceans to a new culture with a new language to become part of a new family, only to have that family decide that they don’t want you, and since it is not against the law, that family advertises you on Facebook or Craigslist or some other social media platform and within days you are dropped off to another stranger in a parking lot behind some Walmart somewhere. Yes, this actually happens.

Right now, this scenario would be perfectly legal in the great state of Maine. Unless we pass LD 1342, which would prohibit such an unconscionable act and make it a Class C crime. To borrow and modify a quote from another legislator on this very matter, children are not furniture to be replaced on a whim. Children deserve stability. Adopted children, especially, deserve the chance to heal the so-called primal wound of separation from the mothers who pushed them into the world, and to have the opportunity, if they so choose, to discover their origins.

We must protect our children.

As with all bills, the devil is in the details, and so there may be some kinks that will have to be combed out. But I have faith that under the wisdom of your deliberations, you will craft a piece of legislation that will protect children and families from the outrageous indignity called re-homing and send a clear message to adoptees here and all over the nation that Maine people care about the safety and welfare of all our children. I urge you to pass LD 1342 with a unanimous vote. 

Thank you and I would be happy to answer any questions.

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Prologue

The committee passed the bill unanimously with an amendment to make the crime of re-homing subject to the current penalties for abandonment and with an affirmative defense clause to ensure people acting in good faith are not penalized. For more details of the amendment, please click here. The committee worked hard to find the right balance between intent and circumstance and I appreciate all of it. The bill passed the Legislature with the unanimous consent of both Chambers under the gavel, but was vetoed by the Governor without objection to the content of the legislation on its face. Instead, this is one of those bills that the Governor believes ought to receive a 2/3 vote of the Legislature before being enacted into law. We will take up the reconsideration vote of the veto on Tuesday, June 30, at ten o'clock in the morning. I urge people to contact legislators in both chambers to urge them to override this veto. The safety of our children requires it. Thank you in advance.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

We Are A Nation Of Immigrants



Mr. Speaker, women and men of the House, I rise in support of the pending motion.

Every person in this Chamber is a proud American. Our ancestors come from different places; practice different faiths; eat different meals. But we share one nation and one set of ideals. We share a belief in the greatness of our country. A belief that what makes us a great nation isn’t our sameness, but our diversity. Today in the hallways of this magnificent building we saw some of Maine’s diversity. There were people here who came from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congo Brazzaville, Djibouti, Mauritania, Rwanda, Somalia.

They hail from the continent of my ancestors, who did not come to these shores by choice. Ancestors who did not come to these shores fleeing anything. Still, I love America more than any other country on earth, and I wish to be nowhere else.

It has already been quoted, but I am going to quote it again:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I am certain, Mr. Speaker, that every person here, every person listening or watching online, knows that those closing lines from Emma Lazarus’ 1883 sonnet entitled “The New Colossus” are emblazoned on a bronze plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, placed there in 1903.

We are a nation of immigrants.

Let us never forget.

As Thomas Jefferson challenges us, "[s]hall we refuse the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?”
We are a nation of immigrants.

Let us be reminded by the international community through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which the United States voted, that “[e]veryone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

We are a nation of immigrants.

Let us never forget.

Throughout this conversation, we have heard arguments such as: “We can’t even afford to take care of our own; we can’t help our disadvantaged, our elderly, and our infirm, so we can’t help them.” I say, Why not? Why can’t we? From the long perspective of human history, from before the times of the Pharaohs to now, in the wealthiest nation ever to exist on the earth, can we really cry poverty in good faith?

Throughout this conversation, we have heard fears like this: “They don’t look like us. They don’t speak our language. They worship differently than we do. They have strange ways. They can’t be trusted. They just come here to take from us, to pick our pockets, and live off the dole.”

If we haven’t walked in their shoes, then who are we to judge them?

Mr. Speaker, women and men of the house, have we forgotten what makes us human? How have we forgotten what makes us humane? Have we forgotten the purpose of our government?

Our purpose for existing, the principles that guide our work in this Chamber, are laid out in our State Constitution. We have formed the government of the State of Maine [quote] “to establish justice, insure tranquility…promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty.” Is not the welfare of all God’s children our “common welfare?” Isn’t treating all of our residents with fairness and equality indeed “justice?” Isn’t our responsibility to truly secure the blessings of liberty for those who have sought refuge among us, fleeing tyranny and civil war?

It breaks my heart that we are even having this debate.

I will quote a passage from The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin.

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”

And so in facing the conundrum of life in this debate, I am going to flip the script. I am not going to call them immigrants, or asylum seekers, or legal non-citizens. I am going to call them exactly what they are: human beings seeking a better life in the greatest country on earth.

How can we in good conscience vote to throw decent human beings out onto the streets because our sometimes cold and insensitive language around “welfare cheats and illegals” has been repeated so often we have lost our ability to see the human beings behind the labels?

As Martin Luther King said, “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

In order to live with my conscience, I cannot, ought not, will not vote against human beings who need our help. I cannot, ought not, will not pit them against other human beings who need our help. And I cannot, ought not, will not fear what happens at the ballot box in the next election.

Mr. Speaker, women and men of the House, no matter the outcome on this conundrum, this amendment, this vote that we are about to take here this afternoon, I pledge to work with anyone in this Chamber to make sure that our state is more welcoming to young families; more welcoming to people who don’t look like most of us; more welcoming to people from different lands and other countries. And, yes, more welcoming to human beings fleeing the terrible places where life can be found, human beings whose toughness and resilience and ambition will make us a better state now and in the future.

Brilliantly blessed are those who create Unity out of vast Diversity, for they will experience Heaven on Earth.

Mr. Speaker, women and men of the House, let us remember who we are. Let us follow the light of the golden lamp of Lady Liberty and vote to pass this amendment.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Remarks on the Retirement of Stephen Knight of Winthrop

It was my honor and pleasure to take a break from planting Silver Queen Sweet Corn and Yukon Gold Potatoes yesterday to attend graduation ceremonies at Winthrop High School and present a legislative sentiment to Steve Knight, who is retiring from teaching after more than 30 years.

REMARKS OF REPRESENTATIVE CRAIG V. HICKMAN ON THE RETIREMENT OF STEPHEN D. KNIGHT OF WINTHROP - JUNE 7, 2015

Good afternoon students, teachers, administrators, family and friends. I am honored to be here to participate in this ceremony and I thank Principal Morin for the opportunity to make this special presentation. 

Today is the day we congratulate the graduating Class of 2015 for this milestone achievement and wish them all the best in the next chapter of their lives.

They are our future thinkers, our future visionaries, our future leaders, and our future teachers.
None of them could have gotten this far without their teachers. And so today, we honor one of their teachers, a teacher whose own children, children who graduated from this high school, have this to say about him.

“He epitomizes what every parent looks for in a teacher: intelligence, a promise to make your child work hard, and a respect-driven dedication to put in his own time and effort for any student who is willing to do the same. But perhaps more importantly, he's spent three decades setting the standard for teaching among his students as well: a sense of humor, a deep and genuine engagement not only with the subject matter, but also with the art of curiosity and the pursuit of learning itself.”

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more committed to education, more committed to all our teachers.

And let us remember this decent and humble man, who is leaving this honorable profession today and moving on to the next chapter of his life.

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State of Maine, in the Year of Our Lord 2015, we, the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives join in recognizing Stephen D. Knight, of Winthrop, on the occasion of his retirement from teaching. A graduate of Duke University, Mr. Knight began his teaching career in 1980 at Maranacook Community School in Readfield, where he taught for 12 years. He also taught for a year at Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield and for 2 years at American School in Switzerland. Over the course of his career, Mr. Knight taught chemistry, physics, biology, geometry and algebra. He finishes his career with 22 years at Winthrop High School. We send him our appreciation for his commitment to education and to the youth of Maine. We extend our congratulations and best wishes to him on his retirement; 

And be it ordered that this official expression of sentiment be sent forthwith on behalf of the 127th Legislature and the people of the State of Maine;

Given this second day of June, 2015, at the State Capitol, Augusta, Maine;

Signed: Michael D. Thibodeau, President of the Senate; Mark W. Eves, Speaker of the House; Heather. J.R. Priest, Secretary of the Senate; Robert B. Hunt, Clerk of the House;

Introduced by Representative Craig V. Hickman from Winthrop; co-sponsored by Senator Earle L. McCormick from Kennebec.

Will Mr. Knight please step forward to receive this legislative sentiment.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Maranacook Community Middle School Chorus at the State House


Maranacook Community Middle School Chorus of Readfield serenaded the House Chamber on the morning of June 2 with a harmonious rendition of the National Anthem. Their concert on the fourth floor before session was beautiful. Later that evening, they will perform in another concert at the middle school.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

AUDIO: Rep. Hickman Sings National Anthem



Representative Craig V. Hickman of Winthrop sings the National Anthem at the opening of session on May 26, 2015, House Chamber, Maine House of Representatives. Audio clip below courtesy of the Clerk's Office, Maine House of Representatives.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Joel Salatin's Testimony on Right to Food

With Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm and our not-so-smart phones at the Right to Food, Right to Know Rally before public hearings on LD 783 and LD 991 on April 30, 2015

STATEMENT BY JOEL SALATIN BEFORE THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE, CONSERVATION AND FORESTRY IN THE MAINE LEGISLATURE ON LD 783 - APRIL 30, 2015

Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman, and other distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry: my name is Joel Salatin from Virginia and I am here to testify in favor of LD 783, a constitutional amendment to establish a right to food. I’m a farmer, eater, and more importantly, custodian of a 3 trillion member internal community of bacterial beings energizing my personhood.

The only reason the founders of our great republic did not include food rights alongside the right to bear arms, to speak, and to worship was because no one at that time could have envisioned a day when citizens could not acquire the food of their choice from the source of their choice.

Prior to fairly modern times, people depended on their communities for food. Production, preserving, processing, and packaging were all done in a fairly transparent relational transaction. Shoddy participants experienced community censure to maintain hygiene and standards.

With the rise of the industrial food system, this accountability by the commons was replaced by governmental administrative bureaucracy. An opaque industrial food system created a desire in the culture for oversight. That oversight has arguably become just as opaque and industrial as the entity it was created to police. Instead of consenting adults voluntarily self-actualizing their decision-making freedom to private contract, regulators began defining and manipulating food commerce.

Large industrial food businesses curried favor with regulators and politicians who empowered them. Gradually an unholy alliance between industrial food and farm enterprises and the regulatory fraternity, encouraged by an increasingly paranoid, ignorant, and disenfranchised consuming populace, demonized, marginalized, and criminalized historic freedom of choice through the food commons.

Butter and lard were out; hydrogenated vegetable oil was in. Raw milk was out; Coke and Mountain Dew were in. Homemade quiche was out; microwavable hot pockets with unpronounceable ingredients were in. As the official USDA food pyramid wreaks its havoc on the population by encouraging carbohydrates and empty calories, many citizens realize government-sanctioned food and farming bankrupt our health and wellness.

Many of us yearn to opt out of this enslaving orthodoxy. We prefer homemade anything, knowing our farmers, loving compost piles, animals that don’t do drugs, and acquiring most of our food from sources we vet through personal knowledge or the scuttlebutt wafting through the commons.

But to our dismay, we’ve found our choices blocked. We can’t buy the wholesome quiche from our neighbor. In order to sell me her unadulterated, small-ingredient quiche, she must capitalize a commercial kitchen and navigate a labyrinth of licenses, compliances, and infrastructure. The result is that my government denies me the freedom to purchase food through my commons. I can’t exercise freedom of choice; I must depend on administrative regulators to determine my body’s fuel.

I can’t imagine a more basic human right, a more bi-partisan issue, than protecting my right to choose my body’s food. Who could possibly think that such freedom of choice should be denied? We allow people to smoke, shoot, preach, home educate, spray their yards with chemicals, buy lottery tickets, and read about the Kardashians: wouldn’t you think we could let people choose their food?

It is time to give us back the food freedom our ancestors enjoyed. Freedom is not a focus group exercise. If we can’t taste freedom, we can only talk about it, and that leaves liberty hollow. It’s time for us to embrace the innovation and food security solutions that granting a fundamental right to food engenders. You’ve been gracious to let me address you this afternoon. Now please do the right thing and vote yes on LD 783.

Thank you.

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Amendment LD 783 reads as follows, “Right to food. Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food and to acquire food for that individual’s own nourishment and sustenance by hunting, gathering, foraging, farming, fishing or gardening or by barter, trade or purchase from sources of that individual’s own choosing, and every individual is fully responsible for the exercise of this right, which may not be infringed.”




Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rep. Hickman Introduces Bill Establishing a Right to Food

Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity

AUGUSTA – A bill to establish a constitutional amendment declaring that every individual has a natural and unalienable right to food will be heard before the Legislature this Thursday, April 30, 2105, before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop has introduced LD 783, a resolution that would amend Maine’s Constitution to address the issues of food security and food self-sufficiency in Maine.

“Food is life,” said Hickman. “I believe that access to wholesome food is a right for every individual. When one in four children among us goes to bed hungry every night, we must do better. We cannot allow a single one of us to go hungry for a single day. Maine has all the natural resources and the hard-working, independent-spirited people to grow, catch, forage, process, prepare and distribute enough food to feed ourselves and strengthen our local economies. Let us stop importing more food per capita than any other state on the continent.”

Because the bill proposes to amend the Constitution, two thirds of the Legislature will need to approve the resolution and send it to the People for a vote in the next statewide election.

With more than 84,000 hungry children, Maine has New England’s highest rate of food insecurity, according to the USDA

“There is nothing more intimate than eating,” Hickman said. “People are demanding access to the kinds of food that they determine are best for their own health and the health of their families.


"Food is life. This resolution declares that all individuals have a right to the food of their own choosing and that they be personally responsible for the exercise of this right. I believe that the good people of Maine, if given a chance at the ballot box, will resoundingly agree.”

The bill was referred to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee, where it will receive a public hearing on Thursday, April 30, 2015, at 1:00 PM, Cross Office Building, Room 214. There will be a rally at noon in support of LD 783 and LD 991, an act to remove the trigger from Maine's GMO labeling law.

"I am honored that Mr. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia will appear and testify in favor of the right to food," said Hickman. "He has been an inspiration to me ever since I first saw him in the feature documentary Food Inc."

Hickman is an organic farmer and House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Winthrop, Readfield and part of North Monmouth at the foot of Mt. Pisgah.

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