May 16, 2020
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Maine GOP lawmakers want to strip Janet Mills of emergency power, let businesses reopen

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, (right) gives the Republican response to a speech from Gov. Janet Mills' speech in this 2019 file photo.

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Minority Republicans in the Maine Legislature want to reconvene and end the coronavirus state of emergency declared by Gov. Janet Mills, which would allow all businesses to reopen but would require unlikely Democratic support.

The Democratic-led Legislature adjourned in mid-March shortly after Maine recorded its first cases of the virus after passing a pared-back $74 million spending plan and a separate package aimed squarely at the coronavirus that set aside money for the coronavirus fight. It was an example of deference to the Democratic governor in hard times.

But on Saturday, the four Republican legislative leaders released a letter to the Democratic presiding officers asking them to call lawmakers back to Augusta to vote on ending the state of emergency declared by Mills in March to manage the virus response.

Those emergency declarations are the way Mills and other governors have imposed restrictions to stem the virus’ spread. She has ordered Mainers to stay at home except for essential activities, banned gatherings of more than 10 people and closed many nonessential businesses.

The letter from Republican leaders said the plan “imposes an arbitrary set of rules for our businesses with no information on the scientific data used to create them.” House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, shot back in a statement, saying rescinding the emergency state would be “drastic and immoderate.”

Those emergency declarations are the way Mills and other governors have imposed restrictions to stem the virus’ spread. She has ordered Mainers to stay at home except for essential activities, banned gatherings of more than 10 people and closed many nonessential businesses.

Maine is one of 20 states to begin lifting restrictions on businesses after Mills allowed some — including salons and auto dealerships — to reopen on Friday. Another 30 states have not begun to lift their restrictions. Even states that have been more aggressive in lifting restrictions have left emergency declarations in place. Maine’s current emergency declaration lasts until May 15, though Mills could renew it.

The political situation in Maine has changed rapidly in recent days after the tourism industry assailed a gradual reopening plan released by Mills on Tuesday that would limit lodging into the summer and subject out-of-state visitors to a 14-day quarantine requirement.

Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said on Thursday that he has had calls from hotel owners whose phones are “ringing off the hook” with cancellations. Dow said society “learned to live with HIV” and must do the same with the coronavirus, though HIV is transmitted primarily through blood or sex while the coronavirus spreads through airborne droplets.

“We need to have a discussion about how we’re going to end this,” he said of the emergency.

Democratic legislative leaders have intended to return to Augusta this year to tackle business left unfinished when lawmakers adjourned in March. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Gideon, have the authority to call lawmakers back as long as the majorities of both parties agree to reconvene. While Republicans may not get their way on rescinding the order, reconvening could lead to negotiations over the orders.

In a Sunday statement, Jackson said the Republican proposal “would only further spread the virus, allow our economy to worsen and leave Maine people paying the ultimate price.” Gideon said it “is not in the best interests of our public health or the health of our economy.”

Spokespeople for Mills didn’t respond to a request for comment last week, but the governor noted criticism at a news conference on Friday that she left without taking questions, saying there was “no simple solution” to the virus situation.

Republicans have also hit the Mills administration’s level of communication with lawmakers, saying commissioners have not directly addressed questions posed to them. The state had been holding briefings for the full Legislature and party caucuses until media outlets flagged some of them as violations of open meeting laws.

Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen

 


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