The 130th Maine Legislature was sworn into office Wednesday in historic, pandemic-adapted ceremonies at the Augusta Civic Center. While the main business of the first day of session is ceremonial and procedural, it was also a glimpse into what the upcoming session will look like and will be dominated by COVID-19.
Part of the first day of a new session is for legislators who won election and or re-election in November to take the oaths of office and for the Legislature to elect Senate President and Speaker of the House.
The House of Representatives elected Democratic Rep. Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford to serve as House Speaker. Fecteau, 28, is the youngest person to serve as House Speaker in a legislature across the country and is Maine’s first openly gay speaker. The Senate nominated and unanimously re-elect Senator Troy Jackson as Senate President. A logger from Allagash now serving his ninth term in the Legislature. Jackson is the first resident of Aroostook County to ever be elected to two consecutive terms as Senate president.
Typically, the governor is the one who swears in new legislators, but Governor Mills announced Tuesday evening that she is quarantining until Dec. 12, because she was likely exposed to COVID-19 when she came in close contact with a member of her security detail, who has since positive. Mills was tested for COVID-19 on Thursday. Instead, the Legislature was sworn in by Andrew Mead, the acting chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The ceremonies, which are usually open to the public, were closed to only legislators, support staff and credentialed State House media to limit exposure of COVID-19. Everyone that was allowed inside the facility was required to wear a mask or face shield throughout the day.
During the joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday the Legislature elected the state’s three constitutional officers.
Former Senator Shenna Bellows won the race to replace outgoing Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. Bellows, will now have to leave the Senate, setting up a vacancy in state Senate District 14 and a special election. Bellows will be the first female to hold the position of Secretary of State in Maine.
The joint convention voted to re-elect Aaron Frey, a Bangor Democrat, as attorney general and re-elected Henry Beck, a Biddeford Democrat, as state treasurer.
Former Secretary of State, Matt Dunlap was elected to serve a four-year term as state auditor. State auditor is not considered a constitutional officer, but is also elected by the Legislature.
Next month, the House and Senate are expected to continue holding floor sessions at the Augusta Civic Center in order to allow for more distancing. Legislative committees will continue holding public hearing, work sessions and other meetings virtually but with some members located in their traditional State House rooms
Recent state revenue forecasts have suggested the state could face a budget gap of close to $500 million. The state’s constitution requires a balanced budget so this will be one of the first items the new Legislature will have to address.