In the otherwise empty chamber of the Maine House of Representatives, more than a dozen Republican lawmakers sat at computers Tuesday, hoping to make a point.
The group, led by Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield), insists the full Legislature needs to get to work and take back its role in helping battle the COVID pandemic.
Republicans in the Legislature say they want to get a lot more involved in state decisions about dealing with COVID-19. Republicans have been complaining for months about some of the restrictions imposed by Governor Janet Mills, and the fact the Legislature hasn’t convened since last March, leaving the decisions to the Governor.
“We need to be able to have a say with the Governor on things, instead of her making all the decisions. That’s what we are elected to do is help make the decisions,” Rudnicki said.
Republicans have been critical of many restrictions on business, most recently the 9 p.m. curfew that closes bars and restaurants. Freshman Rep. Jim Thorne (R-Carmel) said that requirement makes no sense, and they want to be able to talk with the Governor to understand the reasons behind the orders.
“Transparency, that’s the one thing missing out of everything that’s happened with Maine related to COVID that’s come from our governor,” said Thorne.
But the top Democrat in the House, Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau, says he has had no problem having input with the Governor’s office during the pandemic.
“From the moment we left in March we had regular updates with agencies primarily involved in COVID response, being able to provide feedback when things weren’t going as well as we liked, or we disagreed with a decision,” Fecteau said.
“I think the Legislature has had an opportunity to be involved," he said.
The Speaker said there are a number of bills about COVID-related issues, and they will be heard and considered by lawmakers in the next few months.
Republicans, however, have complained for months they have been largely kept out of the communications loop. Now, says Rep. Sherm Hutchins (R-Penobscot), they want a seat at the table.
“I’m not saying we would have done a lot different, but she would have had 180 legislators helping her that could have made her decisions better and more timely," he said.
The Governor is due to deliver proposed budgets this Friday -- a supplemental budget to fill gaps in the current fiscal year which ends in June, and a proposed new two-year budget, which needs to compensate for an expected $400 million dollar drop in tax revenue, due to business disruptions brought on by the pandemic.