PRIVATE AND SPECIAL LAWS are enacted to address particular persons or groups of persons, such as a municipal or business corporation. Because they are limited in scope, they are not codified in the Maine Revised Statutes. They are published in the Laws of Maine. Private and Special laws are numbered separately from other types of legislation. They are assigned a consecutive chapter number and the numbering begins again with the start of each new Legislature. The Legislature may amend a Private and Special Law at any time so it is necessary to search all the Private and Special Laws to find not only the original act but also any amendments to it.
Several indexes provide access to Private and Special Laws from 1820, when Maine became a state, to the present. Indexing is by the name of the body addressed in the legislation— there are no general subject entries. For example, it is not possible to look under a heading such as Sewer Districts for a list of all those incorporated by Private and Special Law. You would need to look under the proper name of the district.
Index to the Private and Special Laws Enacted by the Legislatures of the State of Maine from 1820 to 1944, Inclusive. Issued as a Supplement to the Biennial Report of the Attorney General. Augusta, Maine: 1944. Note that the references are to year and Private and Special chapter number.
Index to the Private and Special Laws Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Maine 1944 to 1957. Issued by Frank F. Harding, Attorney General. References are to year and Private and Special chapter number.
Laws of Maine 1963. Includes a single cumulative index to Public Laws, Private and Special Laws, and Resolves enacted from 1955 to 1963 which begins of page 1599. References are to the year of the volume of the Laws of Maine and to page number. There is some overlap with the previous index.
Laws of the State of Maine Cumulative Subject Index and Cross Reference Table, 1964 - 1988. Augusta, Maine: J.S. McCarthy, 1990. A combined index to Public Laws, Private and Special Laws, and Resolves. References are to the year of the volume of the Laws of Maine and the page number. Bound volume.
Laws of the State of Maine Cumulative Subject Index and Cross Reference Tables, 1989 - 2006. Augusta, Maine: J.S. McCarthy, 2006. A combined index to Public Laws, Private and Special Laws, and Resolves. References are to the year of the volume of the Laws of Maine and the page number. Bound volume.
Final steps in completing the search of the Private and Special Laws include searching the indexes of any of the volumes of the Laws of Maine published after 2006 or by searching Bill Tracking & Text Search for the 123rd session forward.
Municipal charters include the original act of incorporation and any amendments to that act. Amendments may include changes to the municipal boundary, as the boundary description is included in the original act of incorporation. The original act of incorporation and changes can be found in the Private and Special Laws. However, before 1820 Maine towns were incorporated under the Private and Special Acts of Massachusetts. References to these Massachusetts laws as well as Maine Private and Special Laws to 1940 can be found in: Counties, Cities, Towns and Plantations of Maine: A Handbook of Incorporations, Dissolutions and Boundary Changes. Portland, Maine: Maine Historical Records Survey Project, 1940. This book is available for use at the Law Library.
To update a search for municipal charters it is necessary to use the indexes mentioned in the previous section. Since 1970 municipalities may also have adopted a document referred to as a charter under home rule authority given to them in the Constitution of Maine. The municipality would then operate under the provisions of this document rather than the act of incorporation as amended and general municipal statutes.
Locating Private and Special Laws
Private and Special laws are published in the Laws of Maine, which are available online through the Law and Legislative Digital Library. The Law Library also has all print volumes of the Laws of Maine from 1820 to present. Text of the Private and Special Laws follows the public laws enacted during the same legislative session. If they were enacted during a special session they may be found towards the back of the volume or even in the next Laws of Maine volume, so that Private and Special Laws enacted during 1960 would be found following the Public Laws enacted in 1960 or in the front of the Laws of Maine volume labeled 1961. All laws enacted at special session are grouped together. There is no way to tell from the chapter number whether laws were enacted at special session, but often a higher chapter number increases the possibility.
All of the publications listed in this document are available for consultation at the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library. Library reference staff are happy to provide any necessary assistance in their use. Users unable to come to the Library may contact the Reference Desk. Staff can identify and send you PDFs of Private and Special Laws relating to a particular business or municipal corporation.
Obtaining copies of the publications
Previous years of the Laws of Maine and its cumulative subject index volumes are available for purchase from the Law Library. For more information please refer to our Services webpage. The Laws of Maine is also available on the website of the Revisor of Statutes, from the 117th session (1995) forward.
Counties, Cities, Towns and Plantations of Maine is available from the Maine State Archives (207) 287-5790.