Republicans lawmakers riled by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ use of executive authority to manage Maine’s pandemic response are introducing more than a dozen bills to limit a governor’s civil emergency powers or require greater legislative oversight.

The bills, 14 in all, were heard Monday in the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee, just weeks after both the House and Senate voted against ending the civil state of emergency, which Mills has extended every 30 days since last March.

Bill supporters claimed repeatedly during three hours of online testimony that the governor is going beyond her authority, acting as a dictator or imposing unconstitutional restrictions on citizens. The committee next will meet in a work session, where the bills will likely be cobbled into a single piece of legislation before the panel votes on whether to recommend passage.

But others Monday argued the Legislature should tread lightly in trying to constrain the executive branch, and praised Mills for the outcomes Maine has seen compared with other states during the pandemic.

“No matter the efficacy of top-down mandates, without the people’s alliance, no battle against an enemy seen or unseen can be victorious,” said state Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, a sponsor of one of the measures. “It is our job as legislators to uphold our form of government and refuse to abdicate our constitutional roles in acquiescence to the chief executive and a group of unelected advisers.”

The bills would do a range of things, from requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to extend a civil state of emergency to limiting its continuation or duration. The measures all have an uphill climb in a Legislature controlled by Democrats, who have generally praised Mills’ pandemic response.

Mills has renewed Maine’s civil state of emergency every 30 days for a year, allowing her to use executive orders to change or add temporary legal requirements to state law in an effort to protect public health and the economy.

“Maine has weathered this terrible storm far better than almost any other state,” Jerry Reid, an attorney and chief legal counsel to Mills, told the committee. Reid said that success was largely a credit to the people of Maine, who have “overwhelmingly shown themselves to be resilient and responsible.”

He also credited the “foresight of the Maine Legislature in granting this governor and her predecessors necessary authority to respond to an emergency quickly when lives are at stake.”

Maine has regularly ranked among the top states in its response to COVID-19, he said, and Mills’ sole focus has been on “saving lives and saving livelihoods.”

Maine is not an outlier in continuing its state of emergency and COVID-19 restrictions, according to Reid’s written testimony. Forty-eight states have a state of emergency in effect and 44, including Maine, are employing statewide COVID mitigation strategies, Reid wrote.

On Monday, Maine had the fourth-lowest death rate among the 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia, and was ranked fourth-lowest for COVID-19 infection rates per 1 million residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s COVID tracking website. Maine’s unemployment rate in February was 4.8 percent, 21st lowest in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But those supporting the bills said Mills has made unchecked restrictions on people’s lives that have been more damaging than the virus.

Keim read a letter from Kristen Chapman of Sumner, who told lawmakers that because of restrictions and confusion earlier in the pandemic around oral surgery and use of general anesthesia, Chapman’s 16-year-old daughter had to endure a painful extraction of two impacted wisdom teeth and a long delay to have the remaining two removed. The teenager was unable to eat solid food for over a month, Chapman wrote.

“We could not have imagined that a declaration of emergency would last so long, resulting in the kind of treatment expected in impoverished countries,” Chapman wrote. “Under this prolonged unending state of emergency, medical and dental care was deferred to the point that what was intended to protect the public actually became harmful to the citizens.”

Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, the Senate committee chair, said arguments that the Legislature had abdicated its powers to Mills were unfounded. He pointed out that the Legislature, by simple majority vote in both bodies, could end a state of emergency but had not done so.

Baldacci also noted that citizens’ voices were being heard by the Legislature, as was the case Monday when dozens testified and others offered written testimony on the bills before the committee.

“This is a great exercise in democracy,” Baldacci said. “Because we are all here together as Democrats, Republicans, independents talking about how best to serve our government. That itself, being part of the process, is a success.”

Baldacci also said Mills was doing an “excellent” job in her response to the pandemic, but he welcomed an ongoing conversation as the bills move toward a work session in the days ahead.

“I do agree the Legislature needs to more fully assert its role, but that’s not an issue with the governor,” Baldacci said.

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