AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lawmakers did not vote to allow female genital mutilation, despite reports circulating widely online.
Several sites claimed Democrats in the Maine Legislature voted to allow the practice, which is common in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Female genital mutilation is already outlawed in the U.S. and is punishable by up to five years in prison. But some Maine prosecutors have claimed it is unclear that female genital mutilation also is illegal under state law.
This year, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers pushed to pass harsher penalties in the state, but the effort died in the House over partisan disputes and concern that the legislation would be seen as targeting immigrants. A similar bill failed in 2017 by just one vote.
Roughly two dozen states have passed laws criminalizing the practice.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage backed an effort by GOP Rep. Heather Sirocki, who said the fear of being called a racist is preventing some professional health workers from reporting young patients with signs of female genital mutilation.
The governor has claimed state Medicaid data showed that individuals had received treatment for complications from female genital mutilation. But groups that work with Maine immigrants said such data does not prove the procedure is happening in the state.
Democratic Rep. Barbara Cardone's proposal called for, though did not require, outreach services to immigrants. Some lawmakers also wanted to ban minor girls from elective surgery on their genitals.
Both bills would have made the procedure a felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
In the end, both efforts failed.
A majority of lawmakers on the Legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety instead backed a third bill that in part would extend the statute of limitations for female genital mutilation offenses. The bill also would have made it a felony to perform female genital mutilation, transport a minor outside the state for female genital mutilation or consent to female genital mutilation of a girl.
The bill passed the Senate, but died in the House on April 18 after multiple rounds of votes on competing versions of the committee's bill.
Democrats opposed a section of the bill that made it a felony to "knowingly consent" to female genital mutilation of a minor.
Cardone said that could stigmatize immigrants and make them fearful of seeking health care. She said the language raised the possibility of a victim's parents being prosecuted for something they consented to in a foreign country.
"It opened up a huge gulf between Democrats and Republicans," said Cardone, who instead backed an amendment similar to her original proposal.