AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill calling for an end to the state of emergency declaration received bipartisan support in the Maine Legislature but was ultimately voted down Thursday.
Republican Sen. Rick Bennett of Oxford introduced the joint resolution that sought to end Gov. Janet Mills’ declaration in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The current declaration is in effect through March 18. Under Maine law, the governor may only renew emergency declarations in 30-day increments. Mills has renewed the declaration 12 times since first enacting the measure last March when the pandemic reached Maine.
In the legislation, Bennett argued Mills has enacted the emergency declaration “without consulting the Legislature, a coequal branch of State Government, for nearly a year.”
Bennett’s resolution said the emergency orders were originally based on science and were designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 across the state, “but have been extended for months without providing the Legislature with a sufficient scientific rationale or justification.”
When Mills extended the proclamation last month, the administration said the proclamation allows Maine to deploy all available resources to respond to and contain COVID-19, "is in line with nearly every other state in the nation which have ongoing emergency declarations," the administration said, citing the National Governors Association.
In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine on Thursday, the press secretary for the Governor’s Office, Lindsay Crete, said Mills “is not interested in making the pandemic political.”
“She is focused solely on saving the lives and livelihoods of Maine people,” Crete continued. “Her Administration will continue to balance public health and economic health within the bounds of her Constitutional authority and in a strictly non-partisan and non-political fashion.”
Three Democrats—Sens. Craig Hickman, Chloe Maxmin, and David Miramant—joined Republicans in voting to pass the resolution. The resolution was rejected in a 19-15 vote.
After the vote on Thursday, Maine Senate Republicans said, “The people of Maine have been crying out for relief from government by dictate and from the reality that their voices are not being heard or seriously considered in Augusta. The Senators and Representatives that they elected are being prevented from properly representing their interests. This is not representative government.”
“A central tenet of our democracy is separation of powers,” Bennett said in the release. “The Legislature has a unique role in being the eyes and ears and the voice of the people. With this imbalance of government, there has been a pernicious degradation of our democratic traditions over the past months.”
Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat, was among those voted against the resolution on Thursday. In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine, Jackson defended the governor's emergency declaration, and said revoking the declaration now "would slow vaccination efforts and threaten our progress, access to critical personal protective equipment, funding."
"Over the past year, none of this has been easy. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people and businesses up and down the state really unfairly. However, at this point, the Maine Legislature can't even come together on a supplemental budget when there is critical relief for more than 160,000 Mainers, more than 28,000 businesses, direct care providers and veterans on the line. This summer, we couldn't reconvene because my Republican colleagues wouldn't vote to come back into session. In fact, some of my Republican colleagues don't even believe we are in a public health emergency," Jackson said.
"The State of Emergency allows the governor to make critical decisions and deploy aid quickly to contain the virus and save lives," he continued. "Quite frankly, that is what we need right now, and it's why almost every other state continues to declare a civil emergency. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel."
Maine Policy Institute CEO Matthew Gagnon said in a statement “It’s unfortunate that partisanship prevailed in the Maine Legislature,” and said “Mainers deserve a voice in the decisions that impact their lives and livelihoods.”
“Lawmakers had the opportunity to stand up for their constituents, end Governor Mills’ emergency declaration and restore citizen rule in Augusta,” Gagnon said. "For one year, Governor Mills has unilaterally controlled state government without input from the people of Maine or their elected representatives. This is antithetical to the Constitution, the separation of powers and co-equal branches of government. No single person was ever meant to wield this much power, for this long, in our government. We thank those elected officials who stood up for their constituents and voted to give them a voice in their government again."