Commentary

House Democrats kill bipartisan COVID-19 review commission

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The emergency powers used by governors across the nation to control the pandemic have been disputed essentially since they were first invoked. This session, the Maine Legislature proposed a slate of bills aimed at reforming emergency executive power, but did not pass a single one of them.

Among the slate of bills introduced was one that wasn’t so controversial, or at least shouldn’t have been: a proposal to establish a commission to review Maine’s response to COVID-19, including state laws and policies issued through executive order.

The measure, introduced by Sen. Lisa Keim, was passed unanimously in the Senate, with 22 Democrats voting in favor with 12 Republicans, with one member absent. The bill ultimately died in the House, though, shot down nearly along party lines, 75-68.

Unsurprisingly, Gov. Janet Mills’ administration opposed the bill.

Mills has had extensive executive power over the last 15 months and used it to its greatest extent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

States of emergency in Maine can last only 30 days, but as it stands in law, the governor has the unilateral authority to indefinitely extend the emergency and the powers that come with it. That’s exactly what Mills has done until recently, when she announced the state of emergency would end on June 20.

As outlined in LD 817, the commission would:

  1. Study and review executive orders issued by Mills related to the declared COVID-19 emergency. 
  2. Review contracts entered into related to executing the governor’s emergency proclamation and related executive orders.
  3. Study the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention response, including testing and the use of contact tracing.
  4. Study the policies enacted by a list of state agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and others.
  5. Provide oversight of the extensive use of Gov. Mills’ emergency powers.
  6. Be comprised of 12 members, split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, those being four Senators and eight Representatives, with one independent member. 
  7. Submit an interim report by December 2021, with progress and findings thus far.
  8. Submit a final report that includes suggested legislation to the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services by December 2022.

The Bangor Daily News (BDN) published an editorial arguing for the establishment of such a commission, citing future pandemics and treating the issue as it should be treated: a matter of public health, not a political dogfight.

Policymakers have, yet again, committed an act that is sorely ironic: they have stalled a review of their own strategy to tackle a pandemic, which will surely hamper lawmakers down the line come the next and inevitable contagious disease.

The aim of our policymakers should be to learn and improve from their response to crises, not to obstruct such pursuit of truth and reflection.

As the BDN mentions, “This type of commission could help provide a roadmap rather than a referendum.”

The idea and driving force behind LD 817 must carry on to future legislatures and administrations.

For the sake of the future of Maine, lawmakers must set aside political gain in order to pursue good public policy and good governance.

If this kind of action doesn’t force our legislators to rise above the political winds and do what is best for future legislatures and Maine as a whole, what will?

About Nick Linder

Nicholas Linder, of Cincinnati, is a communications Intern for Maine Policy Institute. He is going into his second year of studying finance and public policy analysis at The Ohio State University. On campus, he is involved with Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations and Business for Good.

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