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Seven lawmakers stripped of committee assignments after entering State House without masks

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Seven Maine lawmakers were stripped of their committee assignments on Monday by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau following a spat at the State House over the facility’s new masking requirement, which is stricter than US and Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The rule was set last week by majority Democrats on the Legislative Council following Governor Janet Mills’ order on May 20 to lift the statewide mask mandate starting May 24. Fecteau replaced the lawmakers who lost their committee assignments with Democrats.

Six Republican lawmakers and one Libertarian were punished after entering the State House without wearing a mask. The exchange between the lawmakers, Capitol Police and State House staff was recorded and included in a press release sent by Laurel Libby and the Maine House Republicans.

Libby, of Auburn, was sanctioned along with Republican Reps. Heidi Sampson of Alfred, Sherman Hutchins of Penobscot, Chris Johansen of Monticello, Michael Lemelin of Chelsea and Jim Thorne of Carmel. Rep. John Andrews of Paris, the legislature’s lone Libertarian, was also involved.

“Maine adapted its rules to align with federal guidelines because the science overwhelmingly tells us that it’s safe to do so, and the Legislative Council is ignoring that fact,” Andrews said. “This is not their house, it is the people’s house. This is a purely political move with no basis in science. Enough is enough. It is time to get back to normal, get out from under the thumb of government and live our lives as free individuals.”

It’s unclear if the lawmakers penalized Monday will be able to retain their previous committee assignments in the future. The Legislature is quickly approaching the end of the current special session, with committee work slated to come to a close by the end of this week.

“I am absolutely disinterested in having to engage in a tussle over face coverings and the like,” Fecteau said of the incident, according to the Bangor Daily News. “I simply will not tolerate attempts to devolve our institution into showmanship and political theater.

There’s just one problem with the Speaker’s rationale, however: Requiring vaccinated Mainers to wear a mask at the State House is political theater.

The US CDC on May 13 updated its guidance on mask wearing and other pandemic restrictions, recommending that vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without wearing a mask or social distancing, with only a few exceptions. The updated guidance also states individuals who are vaccinated can resume all forms of travel, do not need to quarantine after international travel and do not need to be tested if exposed to another person who has tested positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic.

“Today, CDC is updating our guidance for fully vaccinated people,” US CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a May 13 White House COVID-19 breifing. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things you have stopped doing because of the pandemic. We have all longed for this moment, when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul pressed Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the topic of masking after vaccination during a Congressional hearing in March.

“Given that no scientific studies have shown significant numbers of reinfections of patients previously infected, or previously vaccinated, what specific studies do you cite to argue that the public should still be wearing masks well into 2022?” Paul asked Dr. Fauci at the hearing.

“You’re telling everybody to wear a mask whether they’ve had an infection or a vaccine. What I’m saying is they have immunity and everybody agrees they have immunity. What studies do you have that people that have had the vaccine or have had the infection are spreading the infection? If we’re not spreading the infection, isn’t that just theater? You have the vaccine and you’re wearing two masks, isn’t that theater?” Paul pressed further.

“No, here we go again with the theater,” Fauci said.

That exchange occurred in March. In an appearance on Good Morning America last week, Fauci admitted that his post vaccination mask wearing was about “signals” being sent to the public, not to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Before the CDC made the recommendation change, I didn’t want to look like I was giving mixed signals. But being a fully vaccinated person, the chances of my getting infected in an indoor setting is extremely low,” Fauci said on the program.

In other words, Fauci and the CDC were aware for a while before updating mask guidance that the science did not support their use after infection or vaccination. In his own words, wearing a mask had little to do with stopping the spread of COVID-19 after he was vaccinated.

Similarly, the rules adopted by the Legislative Council last week are “extrascientific.” They are based in fear, power and control, not science.

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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