Fiery Debate In House Over Allowing Uniformed Military Recruiters In Public Schools
Two bills addressing the military and their recruiters’ place in Maine’s public schools were fiercely debated in the House of Representatives Tuesday. Both bills were submitted by Governor LePage and sponsored by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport.It was perhaps the most emotional House floor debate of this session. The first bill would have mandated that school boards create a policy to let the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a military aptitude test, be administered by a recruiter to students who want to take it. That measure narrowly failed 74-68.The second bill would require schools to give uniformed military recruiters the same access to schools and students as other career recruiters. Opponents of the measure say recruiters should be allowed to come into schools, but school officials should have the authority to ask that the recruiters not wear their uniforms around kids. Instead recruiters would wear casual attire when visiting public schools.House Majority Leader Seth Berry said he did not support the measure because he says it diminishes local control and school boards should be making these types of decisions.”We need to be careful when it appears we are already doing very well in this area about enacting a solution that may be in search of a problem,” Berry said.Berry wasn’t alone in questioning whether there was even an issue with military recruiters not being permitted in public schools in uniform. That question was answered by Maine Department of Education Commissioner Steve Bowen, who told TV5 Tuesday that he has heard complaints from military recruiters. But Bowen said he never provided a list of those schools to lawmakers because recruiters were apprehensive about providing a list of schools to state officials.”We talked to them quite a lot about naming names and there was some anxiety about that, as you might imagine, since they want to build relationships with schools,” Bowen said. “But it was certainly relayed to us and it was relayed to the governor that this was an issue.”Bowen also said he has also corresponded with recruiters who were upset about not being able to wear their uniforms in schools.”It’s really just a policy question,” Bowen said. “Is this the right policy to tell military that in order to have access to talk to students about a career in the military they can’t wear their uniforms on school property? That’s why the governor wanted to put the bill forward.” Representative Ann Dorney, a Norridgewock Democrat, ignited a firestorm when she suggested on the House floor that recruiters in uniform could intimidate students.”We’re not talking about not having recruiters in school. Those are allowed and we’re doing a very good job encouraging kids to go into the military. But I just worry that if you have someone in uniform that may give additional power when kids are supposed to be making this decision about what they want to do with their lives,” Dorney said, addressing her colleagues.Supporters of the bill, many of them veterans like Farmington Republican Lance Harvell, fired back.”The Harvell Bishop VFW in Madison, Maine is named after my Great Uncle who gave his life on December 30, 1944 in Bastogne, Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. And I find it offensive that if he were alive today that she (Dorney) would be saying he should not be able to walk into a school. He never got the right. He never got the right to have children. He never got the right to live what we live here today because he died to give us this right. And I ask you to press red today and think of his blood and the blood of thousands of others. No, millions that gave us the right to be here today,” thundered Harvell on the floor of the House.Harvell wasn’t alone in his anger. “I just can’t understand it,” Calais Republican Joyce Maker said. “We stand at Bangor Airport and welcome the soldiers home, but we do not want them in our schools in uniform? There’s something wrong with that message.”Augusta Republican Corey Wilson also took issue with the even having the debate in the first place. “We’re in war right now. There are men and women dying as we speak for us to be able to do this. It troubles me that we’re even having this discussion.”When the dust settled, the House voted overwhelmingly 115-28 in favor of mandating uniformed recruiters be allowed in public schools. Now the measure faces a vote in the Senate.