Legislators should not be above the people they represent

This week, legislative Republicans attempted to show that legislators are not above the people they represent and advocated for a process that promotes maximum participation from the general public on decisions that impact their daily lives.

The public’s elected representatives will not be meeting in person this month, even though many of the people they represent work every day in jobs serving the public. This is State Representative Billy Bob Faulkingham, of Winter Harbor, with the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

This session, the Legislature will be dealing with a lot of important issues that will impact Maine citizens. This includes determining how best to allocate $822 million in projected excess tax revenues, the shortage of healthcare workers, rising energy costs, and the ever increasing cost of living in Maine.

On the first day of the 2022 legislative session, majority Democrats approved temporary rules requiring committees to meet remotely. This was done over Republican objections, floor debate, and roll call votes.The legislature will not be meeting regularly this month, possibly not until March. This decision will make it harder to produce bipartisan legislation.

Many newer members of the legislature have never met face-to-face with their colleagues or the opportunity to develop relationships that can overcome the partisan rhetoric that often occurs in an election year. House and Senate Republicans argued that we need to be safe, but that we should continue to do perform our jobs, like the frontline workers we represent. If store clerks, food service and other frontline occupations can safely serve that public, surely we can do the same at the State House.

The process that the legislature has followed since the beginning of Covid-19 has revealed several weaknesses:

• Committee meetings were inconsistently run, often with different rules applied at different times. • People were frequently not allowed to testify.

• Bills were dismissed without any work session discussion. At one meeting, the Democrat Chair stated that there was no need to discuss the merits of a bill because “we all know how we are going to vote.” That decision prevented the public from learning why their elected represented voted the way they did.

• Public testimony from everyday citizens fell sharply, while Democrats lined up special interest groups to testify on their bills.

• Older citizens without computers, high-speed internet connections, or technological literacy were not able to participate.

• Decorum suffered. One person even smoked marijuana on Zoom while testifying, something that would not be allowed at the State House.

The debate in session rules was not entirely partisan. According to the Portland Press Herald, at least one Democrat Senator broke with his party to oppose remote meetings, calling them “new class warfare” between white-collar workers and others earning minimum wage or working in service jobs who don’t have the option of working from home.

Republicans want to avoid past mistakes and policies that limit public participation, make bipartisanships harder, and set a bad example.The solution is to go to hybrid meetings that include in-person work and public testimony, and an online option for those wishing to participate remotely.

It is important that legislators demonstrate that they are not above the people they represent and want maximum input from constituents before important decisions are made in Augusta.

This has been Representative Billy Bob Faulkingham with the Weekly Republican Radio Address.

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