Inside Augusta

Democrats oppose emergency power reform bills along party line votes

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Governor Janet Mills’ reign over Maine people doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, unfortunately. Democrats on Maine’s State and Local Government Committee voted along party lines Monday to issue divided reports on a number of bills that seek to reform emergency executive power in the state, all but ensuring their defeat before the full House and Senate.

In total, Democratic members of the committee voted in opposition to 14 bills that would refine the scope of emergency executive power in Maine or require additional legislative involvement to extend emergency declarations. The 14 bills are as follows:

LD 14 – An Act To Require a Two-thirds Vote to Extend a State of Emergency, Sponsored by Sen. Matt Pouliot of Kennebec

LD 131 – An Act To Amend the Governor’s Emergency Powers, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford.

LD 608 – An Act Regarding the Governor’s Emergency Powers, sponsored by Rep. Chris Johansen of Monticello

LD 628 – An Act To Protect Businesses and Civic Organizations from Actions Taken Pursuant to an Emergency Proclamation, sponsored by Rep. Meldon Carmichael of Greenbush.

LD 729 – An Act To Provide Transparency Regarding State Contracts during a State of Emergency, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Keim of Oxford.

LD 955 – An Act To Narrowly Tailor Emergency Powers of the Governor and Other Public Officials, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Keim of Oxford.

LD 980 – An Act To Establish Balance in the Governor’s Emergency Powers, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Sampson of Alfred.

LD 985 – An Act To RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Require Legislative Approval of Any State of Emergency Lasting Longer Than 60 Days, sponsored by Sen. Trey Stewart of Aroostook.

LD 1019 – An Act To An Act To Promote Transparent Emergency Management, sponsored by Rep. Dick Bradstreet of Vassalboro.

LD 1039 – An Act To Safeguard the People’s Voice in a State of Emergency, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Keim of Oxford.

LD 1137 – An Act To Limit the Governor’s Emergency Powers by Requiring a Two-Thirds Vote of the Legislature To Continue an Emergency Order after 90 Days, sponsored by Rep. Michael Lemelin of Chelsea.

LD 1142 – An Act To Prohibit the Unequal Restriction of Essential Businesses during a State of Civil Emergency, sponsored by Rep. Justin Fecteau of Augusta.

LD 1220 – An Act To Require a Two-Thirds Vote of the Legislature Every 2 Weeks To Maintain a State of Emergency Declared by the Governor, sponsored by Rep. John Andrews of Paris.

LD 1237 – An Act To Allow the Governor To Declare a Limited State of Emergency for Federal Aid Purposes, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Keim of Oxford.

Governor Mills assumed total control over Maine by declaring an emergency last March and using the state’s broad emergency powers law to continue her unilateral rule for more than one year. The governor has renewed her emergency order 14 times and used her expansive emergency powers to impose lockdowns, mask mandates, “essential” and “nonessential” business designations, business capacity restrictions and more.

Many of the rules had no basis whatsoever in science, like closing State Parks, wearing a mask while alone outdoors, forcing businesses to sanitize surfaces (the CDC says the chance of catching COVID-19 from a surface is less than 1 in 10,000), golfing only in your home county unless you’re a member of a golf club in a different county, and plenty more.

At no point during the last 14 months did the governor or her administration offer hard metrics of what they’re looking for to end the state of emergency declaration or remove any of the mandates she has imposed to date. Fear and panic from the Mills administration mostly persist, even 14 months later when so much more is known about the virus and who stands the greatest health risks from catching it.

The premise that Maine is in an emergency today is laughable. We know what we’re up against, we know who’s most impacted by it and how to protect them, and our solution to the problem has already been deployed in the form of vaccine development and widespread inoculation.

Despite some mostly-subdued protests about a lack of legislative involvement early on in the state’s virus response, elected Democrats have been quiet on the issue during the 130th Legislature. Their refusal to push back against the ever-expanding power of the executive branch has effectively locked Mainers out of their own government for more than a year. Without input in the state’s virus response, Mainers have no control over whether their kids can go back to school or their business or place of employment can reopen. Instead they await orders from a single human who determines what freedoms they can exercise, as if we live in an autocracy. It’s the antithesis of representative government.

Mainers surely haven’t been silent on the issue, though. Thousands contacted their elected officials in support of the measures. According to the the House Republican office, testimony in support of reforming emergency executive power outpaced testimony in opposition by a 40:1 margin.

The office issued a press release Monday criticizing their counterparts for opposing each proposal along party lines.

“The Legislature’s ability to represent people is not supposed to be suspended by a long-term emergency,” said Rep. Randall Greenwood. “This pandemic has highlighted a serious flaw in the law governing emergency powers. The legislative branch has effectively been shutout for over a year.”

“I am disappointed that Democrats on the committee did not believe we need to address the antiquated emergency powers statute in order to ensure coequal, legislative involvement during a prolonged emergency,” said Rep. Kathleen Dillingham. She called it “unfathomable” to suggest the legislature has no role to play during an emergency when Mainers need them most.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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