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Mills, 2 New England Governors Working Together To Figure Out When To Reopen Their States' Economies

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Gov. Janet Mills and CDC Director Nirav Shah and a news conference announcing Maine's first coronavirus positive case at the State House, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Augusta.

Gov. Janet Mills said Tuesday she’s working closely with the governors of New Hampshire and Vermont to monitor outbreaks of COVID-19 and determine the best time to reopen their respective economies. Mills says it’s too soon to say when the slow return to normalcy might begin, but she indicated that it’s the governors, and not President Donald Trump, who will make those decisions.

Mills used Tuesday’s daily briefing to give a bit of a pep talk to Mainers living under a statewide stay-at-home order that has restricted social gatherings and business operations for two weeks now. Those restrictions are likely to go on a for a bit longer now that Mills has extended the state’s civil emergency by 30 days, a move that also grants her the authority to prolong the stay-at-home order.

But Mills, a Democrat, also said she’s working with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, both Republicans, to determine how and when the three New England states might reopen their economies.

“We are talking about how and when to lift any restrictions that are appropriate based on the medical evidence, the public health and safety criteria that we all want to apply. And how we can gradually turn things around when it’s safe to do so,” she said.

Mills says collaborating with New Hampshire and Vermont made more sense than joining a widely publicized consortium led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She says the three states share many similarities, including rural economies, cultural norms and demographics.

COVID-19 data show the three states have been comparably affected by the disease: Maine hit 734 confirmed cases Tuesday, New Hampshire has 748 current cases and Vermont has 752. All three states have experienced roughly the same number of fatalities.

Mills was also asked about Trump’s assertion on Monday that he has the ultimate power to reopen state economies, regardless of whether state officials think it’s safe to do so.

“It’s hard for me to keep on top of all the statements coming out of the White House. I don’t write them down. I don’t respond to them. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to respond to them,” she said.

Mills, a lawyer and Maine’s former attorney general, didn’t specifically mention the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants state governments and governors significant legal authority to resist federal edicts. But she did make it clear that Maine and its neighbors will make their own determinations about when it’s safe to lift restrictions and that those decisions will be based on science and public safety.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.