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Maine Lawmakers End Session After Approving Sweeping Emergency Powers For Governor

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Bottles of hand sanitizer are made available for lawmakers outside the House Chamber at the State House, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Before ending the legislative session Tuesday, Maine lawmakers voted overwhelmingly for a bill that gives sweeping powers to Gov. Janet Mills to address the coronavirus pandemic.The legislation gives the governor the authority to spend millions of dollars without specific legislative approval.

It also sets up a temporary expansion of unemployment benefits to immediately help workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. There have been more than 5,000 new applications for unemployment as of Sunday.

Senate President Troy Jackson said with the legislative session coming to an end amid the pandemic, the governor will need the additional authority.

"The legislature is going to be gone. We won't be able to pass bills, give any funding for something that may come up," Jackson said.

Senate GOP leader Dana Dow said he also supported providing Gov. Mills with additional authority. "I realize there are substantial powers for the governor," he said. "I don't worry about those powers being abused - that's just a personal feeling."

The bill also gives the governor authority to change school laws dealing with minimum days of instruction,  and to change the timing and way the June election will be held.

In addition, it allows various state boards and local governments to meet electronically. It also gives an extra 30 days to pay a whole range of licensing fees.

Lawmakers adjourned indefinitely Tuesday evening after working under emergency rules that limited the State House to lawmakers, staffers and the media. All others were banned from the building, and the House gallery was closed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Originally published March 18, 2020 at 5:50 a.m. ET.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.