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Legislative Council votes to make masks optional at State House starting March 7

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Maine’s Legislative Council voted unanimously on March 3 to change its requirement that legislators and staff wear masks inside the State House’s legislative spaces. The council voted to tie the policy to the community transmission rate of COVID-19 in Kennebec County as measured by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As long as the transmission rate is not high, masks will not be required in legislative spaces. Should the transmission rate in Kennebec County move to a level where masks are required, the legislative council will hold a discussion before reimplementing mandatory masking.

The policy will go into effect on March 7.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R–Androscoggin) made a motion at the council’s previous meeting on February 24 to rescind the part of the body’s COVID-19 Prevention Policy that requires face masks to be worn in legislative spaces.

Following discussion about expected changes to the U.S. CDC’s masking recommendations and the need to discuss rescinding the measure with other caucus members, the motion was tabled with the understanding it would be revisited during the week of March 1. 

Timberlake withdrew this motion so a vote could be held on Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau’s (D-Biddeford) motion to tie the masking requirements to the community transmission status of Kennebec County.

Fecteau originally proposed having the new policy go into effect on March 9 to coincide with the date universal masking will no longer be recommended in public schools. Timberlake objected to the date, arguing the change in policy required no preparation and could go into effect immediately. March 7 was agreed upon as a compromise.

Several members, including Timberlake and Sen. Kathleen Dillingham (R-Oxford), raised concerns about the Maine CDC’s backlog of COVID-19 cases artificially inflating the transmission rate of Kennebec County. Members agreed to have a discussion about any increase in the county transmission rate before reimposing the masking requirement.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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