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Some Maine lawmakers block special session for second time

Maine State House
Maine State House(Allegra Zamore)
Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 12:08 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Partisan differences continue to block a special session of the Maine legislature.

While a majority of Democrats support convening a brief session in Augusta, a majority of Republicans do not.

The legislature adjourned March 17th and Democrats control both chambers, but the state constitution requires both party caucuses to agree to come back.

In a new survey of all 186 legislators, all 109 Democrats voted "yes" to a special session, but only 2 republicans did.

Most Republicans did not respond.

Republicans want to limit the agenda to coronavirus-related topics.

Democrats seek a broader agenda, pointing to 162 bills half passed unanimously by committees and three-quarters with bipartisan support.

Republican leaders also say legislators should “set an example” and abide by the governor’s order limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people.

Statement from Senate President Troy Jackson:

"Once again, a majority of my Republican colleagues failed to match months of rhetoric with meaningful action. To be honest, I'm absolutely floored. At a time when so many Mainers are struggling, it's unacceptable that elected officials would refuse the opportunity to provide some relief. In almost any other job, refusing to show up over and over again would be a fireable offense.

“When Republican lawmakers pulled a similar stunt two weeks ago, they provided a long list of excuses for why they wanted to block a special session. Yesterday, I spoke extensively with Senator Dana Dow on the phone about the scope of a possible special session and the poll question. I noted that for months many of his members, himself included, actively participated in committee meetings and voted to advance bills for consideration during a possible special session. So for them to turn around and say that they haven’t been included is disingenuous. For them to say they want to privately pick and choose winners and losers before agreeing to a special session is deeply concerning and disrespectful to all the committee members who put in the work... All across the state Maine people and small businesses have risen to the challenge of our times. People have put the health and well-being of their neighbors first. Workers and businesses have adapted to new markets and a new way to work. With bills to ensure Maine veterans get vital services, to rein in prescription drug costs, to address racial inequity, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect small businesses from being penalized for receiving federal emergency loans all in limbo, it’s unfortunate that the Legislature couldn’t do the same.”

Statement from Senate Republican Leader Dana Dow and Assistant Senate Republican Leader:

“For the second time in a few weeks, you have sought the opinion of our members as to the convening of the Legislature in Special Session. You have done so with the full knowledge of our position which we have stated repeatedly since May 2.

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and under a State of Civil Emergency which Governor Mills extended for 30 additional days just this afternoon, there is no legitimate argument to be made justifying attempts to conduct “business as usual.”

As you are aware, the second session of each legislature is to be reserved for matters of an emergency or budgetary nature. Special sessions are typically reserved for an even more limited agenda, allowing for urgent matters that simply cannot wait until the next regular session.

State government, through the executive orders of Governor Mills, has established restrictions on our citizenry that has caused an untold amount of grief and devastation to our friends and neighbors across Maine. Many of them will never fully recover from the losses they have sustained while adhering to these government mandates.

By defying the principles of the Governor’s “stay safer at home” order or her order against large gatherings exceeding fifty people, for example, we are telling Mainers that there are two kinds of people in our state; those who must suffer under government-imposed rules, and a privileged class of political elites for whom these rules do not apply.

We will not be a party to the latter. The Legislature is morally and ethically obligated to set an example by living within the same boundaries that we place upon those who elected us. The current emergency justifies a brief, direct session that allows us to dispense with the most urgent of issues and then safely adjourn and return to our homes. No more.

Having polled our members in accordance with Article IV, Part Third, Section 1 of the Maine State Constitution, we can inform you that the majority of our members responded in opposition to the poll question, thereby not consenting at this time.”

Statement from Speaker of the House Sara Gideon:

“A vote to reconvene would have provided an opportunity to have a real discussion about the hardships Maine families and small businesses are experiencing and how the Maine Legislature can provide targeted relief in a way that bolsters our economy. Many of us have been vocal about the critical need to address the allocation of CARES Act funding, school readiness and the impact the pandemic is having on our small businesses. But this vote shows that only some of us were serious about taking action on those priorities....Mainers across the state are hard at work every day. They’ve adapted to continue their jobs amid a public health crisis. The results of this poll make it abundantly clear that there are 118 members of the Legislature ready to do the same, reconvene and complete the legislative work before us - I proudly stand as one of them. Unfortunately, we are at an impasse, as my Republican colleagues would prefer posturing over policy.”

Copyright 2020 WABI. All rights reserved.

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