Democratic leaders in the Maine Legislature called another poll on Tuesday to bring lawmakers back for a special session in August, but minority Republicans who have argued for a narrow scope of business signaled that they were still opposed.
Lawmakers were polled in mid-July by the Democratic presiding officers whether they wanted to return. While Democrats, independents and the tribal representative voted to return, only one Republican voted yes and most did not vote at all. A special session can only be convened if a majority of lawmakers in both political parties agree to return or if Gov. Janet Mills calls it.
Both parties have said there is a need for lawmakers to return but have snagged on what issues should be taken up. Republicans who pressed for a return in May have maintained they will only return for a short session dedicated to coronavirus- or budget-related items. The Legislature adjourned in mid-March as the virus bore down on Maine.
Democrats, on the other hand, have argued that work around issues like health care, racial disparities and more need to be addressed and that leaving bills on the table would waste the time of this Legislature and the next. Complicated matters including a sweeping tribal sovereignty effort are caught in the uncertainty around a return.
Despite those differences, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, seem to be hoping the conclusion of roughly a month’s worth of work from committees will bring Republicans to the table. Democratic-led committees have voted on 162 bills over the summer and nearly half of those decisions have had unanimous support.
Lawmakers have 24 hours to respond, but it seems unlikely Republicans will give up their leverage. Spokespeople for Republican leaders said they had not been contacted to discuss the scope of the session. A spokesperson for Jackson said he discussed polling with a top Republican and provided an email to Republicans showing a list of bills approved by panels.
Democrats say Maine’s relatively low share of coronavirus cases provides a safe window to return to Augusta, though the Legislature would likely meet at the Augusta Civic Center to better accommodate distancing.
No returning could leave the next Legislature in the position of wrangling a potential $1.4 billion revenue shortfall without any preparation. It could also affect businesses that have received funds through the Paycheck Protection Program. Forgiveness of the loans depends on whether states conform to the Internal Revenue Code, which requires legislative action.