After being away since March 2020, legislators returned to the Capitol on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 to finish the work of the First Regular Session of the 130th Maine Legislature. The State House reopened to the public Monday, May 24, 2021 for first time. The Legislative Council, the administrative body for the Legislative Branch of State government that consists of the ten elected members of legislative leadership: the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Republican and Democratic Floor Leaders for both the Senate and House of Representatives and their Assistant Floor Leaders voted to reopen the State House to the public on the condition that all visitors wear masks. A requirement that caused some disruption between members of the Legislature.

The building had been closed to the public since March 2020 to comply with physical distancing and other safety restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislators have met in person only a handful of times and all of those legislative sessions were held at the Augusta Civic Center, as a temporary State House because it allowed the space necessary for lawmakers to practice social distancing meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Legislature, which has been conducting its committee work remotely via video conferencing, still had bills to process at the beginning of June before statutory adjournment on June 16, 2021.  All bills were to be voted out of committee by May 21, 2021, however there wasn’t one committee who made this deadline.

The full Legislature resumed holding floor sessions at the State House on June 2. Legislators updated the COVID-19 Prevention Policy to eliminate social distancing requirements, but still required Legislators and the public to wear face coverings in shared spaces. Legislative committee work continued to be conducted virtually through the end of the session.

The start of the House floor session was delayed by more than an hour while House Speaker Ryan Fecteau called a meeting of the House Ethics Committee. The panel questioned Representative Andrews regarding his refusal to wear a mask. The Committee voted unanimously to issue a letter of reprimand against him once Representative Andrews agreed to leave the State House. He was given permission to remain on the grounds outside without a mask.

Representative Andrews acknowledged that he was in violation of the rules established by the Legislative Council. He said the rules requiring masks in public spaces in the State House conflict with guidance from the U.S. CDC and the Mills administration that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear facial coverings indoors.

On Wednesday, members of the House Republican caucus said they intended to follow the rules for mask wearing.

The full Legislature worked on dozens of bills on Wednesday and Thursday, but still have a lot of work to do as the upcoming Statutory adjournment is near (June 16). Legislative Committees met Friday and it is unknown if they will continue to meet next week. The full Legislature is scheduled to be in session Monday through Friday next week.

Megan Diver

Megan has worked in Maine politics for more than ten years and all of her professional career, having served in many roles for elected officials (including former Secretary of State Charlie Summers), in-house with the Maine Association of REALTORS®, legislative specialist at Pierce Atwood LLP providing lobbying services and support to Pierce Atwood’s government relations clients and most recently senior government relations specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Megan currently is the Vice President at the Maine Energy Marketers Association, utilizing her vast knowledge and legislative experience at the State House to represent MEMA on policies relating to the Association and its members.