AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legislative leaders tightened mask requirements in the State House and other official spaces on Thursday after a brief controversy that began after a small group of Republicans filmed themselves meeting maskless.
The Legislative Council, a panel of 10 legislative leaders, voted unanimously to require masks or four types of specific face shields recommended by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention after a committee clerk recently quit over health concerns.
A group of House of Representative Republicans had filmed themselves meeting maskless in a State House office room early in the month. Some lawmakers have used a type of partial face shield that does not wrap around the side of the face or extend below the chin.
Those features should be present in any face shield a lawmaker chooses to use, although the CDC recommends face shields only be used if a mask is not a viable option, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said in a memo to the council. The options recommended included shields worn over the ears, mounted on the neck or framing the face.
The change comes as the pandemic-altered session begins in earnest with committee hearings, although neither chamber has convened since swearing-in day on Dec. 2. Some lawmakers have insisted upon working in the State House because of technology limitations, while others have expressed frustration at not being visibly at work in Augusta.
State houses have been grappling with requirements for members as legislatures reconvene across the country. A Georgia lawmaker was kicked out of his chamber on Tuesday after refusing to get a COVID-19 test. In New Hampshire, House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, died after contracting the virus. In Maine, the only lawmakers to test positive is Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, but a House Republican staffer tested positive this week.
Leading lawmakers also changed their policies to require face coverings to be worn at all times unless a person is alone in a room or cubicle and able to be at least six feet away from others. The previous policy allowed for face coverings to not be required if a person was in a common space, such as a hallway or a bathroom.
It also could have allowed people to not wear masks in the House or Senate chambers, which Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, spoke against, saying staff members move through those spaces often and might be uncomfortable if they walk in to people not wearing a mask.
The only people allowed in legislative spaces, such as the State House or when the Legislature meets in the Augusta Civic Center, are lawmakers, staff and certain third-party groups, including reporters, delivery or contract workers.