On Friday, Governor Janet Mills released her response to requests from Speaker of the House Sara Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson to form a task force to direct the state’s response to COVID-19.
“I cannot agree to create a commission I believe would only divert from the critical and time-sensitive work we are doing and inject an unnecessary layer of political partisanship into these very sensitive decisions,” the governor said in a letter to the presiding officers.
In letters sent to Mills on May 5, Gideon and Jackson called for a task force composed of cabinet members, legislators, public health experts, business leaders, labor representatives and others. The task force would focus on issues that arise in the “immediate-term,” as opposed to Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee, which focuses on the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on Maine’s economy.
While the presiding officers argue that a task force will bring valuable perspectives and expertise to advise Maine’s reopening, Mills says that her administration is already consulting economists and labor and business experts.
“I am not convinced that a formal commission… would add anything to the robust flow of information and advice currently in place,” she writes.
Mills claims that her administration is keeping “open lines of communication” with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and has respected the Legislature’s role as a “coequal branch of government.”
Despite Mills’ response, Gideon and Jackson remain determined to carry out their initial request. In statements released on Friday, the officers renewed their call for a task force.
“Speaker Gideon and I are again urging the Governor to create a Reopening Task Force to ensure all Mainers can provide input on these critical decisions. Mainers are stronger when we navigate challenges together,” Jackson said.
Other Democrats have also recently expressed dissatisfaction with how Mills is handling Maine’s reopening. In a statement on May 29th, Senator Nate Libby (D-Lewiston), criticized her decision to delay dine-in restaurant services in Androscoggin, Cumberland and York counties.
“Governor Mills did not consult me, or any lawmaker, on this decision, and I understand why many restaurant owners are frustrated by this decision and how it was announced. The short notice is simply unacceptable,” he said.
Senator Bill Diamond (D-Windham) spoke similarly of Mills’ decision in an interview on WSKW, arguing that the administration would benefit from putting together a group of legislators to advise “decisions that are pending.”
“If some of us could have just mentioned… maybe you didn’t think this all the way through or you didn’t have the information…and closing a restaurant… you just don’t do it on a dime,” Diamond said.
If Maine were to establish a task force, it would follow the lead of other states in New England, such as New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts.