AUGUSTA. Maine — Maine’s only Libertarian lawmaker agreed to sit out work in the House of Representatives for at least the rest of the week after delayed proceedings as the lone member to disobey a State House mask mandate on Wednesday.
Rep. John Andrews of Paris was one of seven members who initially defied the mask mandate last Monday after Gov. Janet Mills lifted the mask requirement for vaccinated people in indoor settings. While those other members indicated they may continue the protest after House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, removed them from their committee, they wore masks in the chamber.
It made Andrews stand out among the masked and shielded groups of lobbyists and lawmakers present in the State House for the first time in more than a year. Fecteau gave Andrews a chance to put a mask on after opening ceremonies began, but Andrews said from the floor that he planned to disobey the rule.
“I fully accept whatever punishment comes from that,” he said.
The episode delayed House proceedings as Fecteau convened the ethics panel. Andrews’ decision effectively bars him from being able to vote this week, although the committee agreed he would be allowed to return to work if he wore a mask. The eight-member House ethics panel recessed while staff drafted a reprimand of Andrews.
It is not clear whether Andrews will be allowed to remain in the State House. The ethics panel only governs House spaces, though the mask mandate is in effect for shared spaces in the entire building. The Capitol Police are responsible for enforcing Legislative Council rules.
The decision by the Democratic-led Legislative Council to keep a face covering requirement in the State House after Mills relaxed the rules for the public caused immediate division between Democrats and Republicans. The majority party passed the mandate along party lines.
House Republican leaders have asked Fecteau what the punishment would be for members who disobeyed the rules. Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, fundraised on her punishment and appeared on Fox News to discuss what happened last week.
Republicans argued the State House should not be held to a different standard than the public and that the Democrats’ decision “no longer followed the science” even as the state’s alignment with federal guidelines only applied to fully vaccinated people. But Democrats said they needed to protect staff members who are not yet or are unable to be vaccinated and were unwilling to survey members to see if they were vaccinated.