Maine’s legislative leaders are polling lawmakers about whether they favor holding a special session this summer.

House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson, both Democrats, are giving lawmakers two days to decide whether to return for the special session. Lawmakers quickly adjourned the Legislature in March, a month early, as the pandemic worsened in Maine and across the country.

The session would follow health and safety policies approved last week by the Legislative Council to minimize risk from COVID-19. The council has 10 members made up of Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate. The safety measures include support staff communicating with lawmakers remotely, wearing masks, stepping up disinfecting and health screenings.

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, pounds his gavel on the first day of the second session of the 129th Legislature in January in the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal  Buy this Photo

Jackson said in a statement that the session would focus on a number of issues, such as the unemployment system and help for small businesses hit hard during the pandemic.

“The time is now for the Legislature to return to Augusta and finish the job. With Maine seeing fewer cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations and deaths, Maine lawmakers are in a good position to finish our work and deliver for Maine people,” Jackson said in a statement.

“For months, we’ve been working in our communities to address inexcusable flaws in our unemployment system, advocate for small businesses so they can remain open and help people access health care, rental relief and food.”

Tom Desjardin, spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the “Legislature should return but only to address COVID-19 issues.”

Democrats hold majorities in the Senate and House. Republicans had pressed for a special session in mid-June, in part to vote on whether to curtail the executive powers Gov. Janet Mills has used to limit the spread of COVID-19. Mills imposed a number of measures, including shuttering businesses and requiring masks in indoor public places. Maine has been slowly reopening, and case counts per capita are among the lowest in the country.

Gideon said in a statement that “bolstering our economic recovery and ensuring that we are addressing the needs of Mainers are the top priorities for this potential Legislative session. This will include public school readiness, help with housing and nutrition needs, aid to small businesses and the tourism economy, adequate childcare, access to rural healthcare, utilizing federal funding and more.”

In May, Gideon and Jackson requested that Mills create a COVID-19 task force to include eight lawmakers. Mills rejected the idea, at the time saying there was already a “robust flow of information and advice” between the legislative and executive branches.” In April, the Press Herald reported on briefings between Mills administration officials and large numbers of lawmakers that violated the state’s open meetings laws.

While the full Legislature has not been meeting, some committees have held sessions. Three committees – health and human services, criminal justice, and judiciary – will meet this week.

 


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