July 8, 2020
President Troy Jackson
3 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Speaker Sara Gideon
2 State House Station
August, ME 04333
Dear President Jackson and Speaker Gideon,
Recently you issued instructions to committees to begin work on bills still before them in anticipation of the Legislature convening for a Special Session. This was done without agreement on the scope of such a session.
Legislative Republicans have repeatedly asked for the Legislature to return to Augusta in order to address a very narrow agenda, specifically, COVID related matters, to include the failures of Maine’s Department of Labor’s Unemployment system, amend the power afforded the Governor under emergency proclamations to reestablish the co-equal branches of government, and oversee the expenditure of funds from the CARES Act.
To date, one conversation pertaining to committee work and the possibility of a special session has happened between Republican Leaders and you. No agreement was reached concerning committee work, much less a special session. The conversation ended with you both expressing your desire to take up all remaining pieces of legislation. That is over 200 bills left in committees and presently an estimated $943 million in new spending on the Appropriations table.
At a time when citizens of Maine are being told they have to adapt to a ‘new normal,’ you want to conduct legislative business as usual. When the Legislature adjourned Sine Die in March, we did so knowing there was a possibility we would return to deal with COVID related emergency legislation. Here we are in July and we find ourselves, with no end in sight, still under a State of Civil Emergency, still under a modified stay-at-home order, still restricting gatherings to 50 persons or less. You cite an accelerated timeline in your letter but none of these restrictions have been lifted by the administration and you haven’t called publicly for an end to any of them.
It is grossly presumptive to have members return to finish their committee work, placing both legislators and staff at risk of exposure to the virus, when there isn’t a public agreement on the scope of work in the event the Legislature holds a special session. With no agreement on limiting the scope of session, it renders any return to committee work premature.
Presently in Maine, houses of worship are still limited to 50 people, businesses continue to operate at half or less capacity (those that are open), and laid off employees continue to wait for the unemployment benefits promised to them months ago. Convening without agreement means weeks of committee meetings and the risk of exposure to the virus by legislative staff, members of the public, and members of the Legislature. If you, as the Presiding Officers, dismiss these COVID related matters as irrelevant and believe that the Governor’s power to continuously extend our state of emergency and legislate by executive order is not worth the legislature’s time, then returning to pass legislation on the confinement of egg laying hens, certainly isn’t worth the more than $50,000 a day to taxpayers for an emergency session.
Legislative Republicans remain committed and open to developing a legislative agenda to address the issues at hand that are truly of an emergency nature to all of Maine’s citizens. That is what we have repeatedly called for publicly over the last several months. That is what our constituents expect. We will not return to an open-ended session to conduct legislative business as normal when the rest of the state is told it isn’t safe for them to do the same. Mainers need relief and commonsense leadership at this time, not a bunch of politicians returning to Augusta to pad their re-election resumes.
We have said repeatedly to you without a public agreement, on a clearly outlined, narrow scope of work that ensures a limited time of exposure for all participating, there will be no support from our caucuses for a legislative session.
Senator Dana Dow Representative Kathleen R.J. Dillingham
Senate Republican Leader House Republican Leader
Senator Jeffrey Timberlake Representative Harold Trey Stewart III
Assistant Senate Republican Leader Assistant House Republican Leader