AUGUSTA, Maine — A second effort by Democratic leaders to bring the Legislature back to Augusta for a special session failed Wednesday evening, making it even less likely that lawmakers will return for business this year.
Republicans polled their own members and largely refused to participate in the exercise, following the same playbook that they followed last month after Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, sent out another poll Tuesday night.
Leaders in the minority party were unswayed by the 162 bills voted out by committees — almost half of which were with unanimous votes — which Democrats argued would represent the scope of the special session. Republicans maintained that they only wanted to take up bills focused on emergency issues and say Democrats never explicitly discussed what bills would be taken up.
In the poll, 109 Democrats favored returning while only two Republicans voted in favor. All six independent legislators and the body’s one tribal member also voted in favor of returning. Four Republicans voted against, while 64 declined to vote. Majorities of lawmakers in both parties must agree to return or Gov. Janet Mills can call the Legislature back.
“Since the last poll question was circulated, Senator Jackson has made no effort to reach out to his Republican colleagues to discuss our differences on this issue,” Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said in a prepared statement.
Jackson countered in a statement Wednesday that he had spoken “extensively” with Dow on the phone the previous day about the scope of the possible session, saying it was “disingenuous” for Republicans to say they were not included.
BJ McCollister, Jackson’s chief of staff, said on Twitter the decisions on what lawmakers take up in a special session should be up to committees, not in “backroom negotiations.” A Jackson staffer provided an email sent to Republicans showing a list of bills approved by panels.
Lawmakers worked through a final weekend in mid-March to secure deals on health care bills and other measures before the Legislature abruptly adjourned due to the virus.
But the issue of returning has been political for a while. Republicans have called for a return since May, in part because some members want to strip Mills of her emergency powers — which the Legislature bolstered in March — because of her handling of the pandemic. Maine’s hospitality industry has struggled deeply under virus restrictions but the state has among the lowest case rates in the country.
The controversy has spilled onto the national stage as well, with Republican groups hammering Gideon on the subject in her high-stakes race against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
BDN reporter Jessica Piper contributed to this report.