- The Maine Wire - https://www.themainewire.com -

State legislatures returning to in-person sessions

After more than a year away, the Maine Legislature returned to the State House on June 2.

As coronavirus case numbers began to rise in March 2020, the legislature adjourned its session on March 17. On December 2, 2020, both chambers passed a joint order authorizing the legislature to operate remotely.

Maine began that legislative session on January 8, 2020 and adjourned sine die on March 17. It was one of 39 states to do so in response to COVID-19.

The legislature’s return to the state house this year marks a special session in the 130th Legislature, which was scheduled to begin in early May but was pushed back after two lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19. It’s scheduled to adjourn June 16.

Maine was one of 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed rules in at least one legislative house authorizing sessions to be conducted remotely. For most states, authorization to work remotely was temporary and tied to coronavirus emergency orders. Only Oregon and Wisconsin had pre-existing statutes authorizing for remote sessions.

Both houses of all New England states, except New Hampshire, voted to allow remote sessions. Though both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature suspended their sessions in March 2020, lawmakers held in-person sessions when they reconvened in June 2020.

Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia are holding regular sessions. An additional 21 remain adjourned. As of February 2021, most states had returned to in-person legislative sessions. 

When lawmakers returned to the State House on June 2, Maine became the first state in the region to fully open its state house and return to in-person, on-site sessions.

The New Hampshire State House is currently closed to the public. And though the New Hampshire legislature is in session, its Senate is meeting remotely and its House of Representatives have been meeting at athletic facilities at the University of New Hampshire.

Members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives recently announced they would return to the House Chamber on June 1. Members of the Senate opted to continue holding meetings on Rhode Island College’s campus through the end of their session in June, a decision estimated to cost $523,828. 

Massachusetts’ State House is currently closed, with no concrete plans in place to reopen it before Governor Charlie Baker’s emergency order expires on June 25. While lawmakers and staff deemed “essential” are working at the State House, most of Massachusetts’ legislative business is being conducted remotely.

Connecticut’s State House is also currently closed, with the legislative session being conducted remotely and masked lawmakers allowed onto the floor to vote. Vermont’s legislature conducted its 2021 legislative session remotely before adjourning on May 22.

Prior to its return to the State House, the Maine State Legislature was renting the Augusta Civic Center. The special session held to swear in new members on August 24, 2020 cost $145,000. 

According to the Maine State Legislature’s Office of the Executive Director, the legislature rented the Civic Center eight more times between October 30, 2020 and May 19, 2021. The total cost of renting the space for those occasions amounted to $30,600. The legislature spent an additional $15,875  to provide security for the sessions held during that time and to set up the venue.

Including the cost of the special meeting in August, the total cost spent to rent the Civic Center amounts to $191,475.