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Maine's Party Leaders Are At Odds Over Calling A Special Session

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
Maine leaders in the legislature are at odds over calling themselves into a special session next month to deal with hundreds of bills left on the table when they adjourned in March.

Leaders of both parties in the Maine Legislature are at odds over calling themselves into a special session next month to deal with hundreds of bills left on the table when they adjourned in March due to the spread of COVID-19. Republicans say they want the session to focus only on issues related to the pandemic.

To call themselves into special session, the state Constitution requires the agreement of a majority of members of the political parties. All the Democrats have voted for a session. But Republican leaders say that a poll conducted by party staff shows nearly all of their members are opposed.

“I knew damn well all along that they were just playing partisan politics, you know, came to fruition this morning,” says state Senate President Troy Jackson.

Jackson says that prior to adjournment in March, all 10 leaders of the Legislature signed off on the emergency powers legislation that ceded most of the pandemic response decisions to Gov. Janet Mills. And he says they agreed that other unfinished business could be dealt with later in a special session.

But GOP leaders say that is not how they remember the agreement. House Republican Floor Leader Kathleen Dillingham says a special session should be limited to pandemic-related issues, and not for considering the hundreds of bills in committee. She says it is Jackson who is playing partisan politics.

“He’s having a little bit of a tantrum because we didn’t respond in the way that he wanted us to,” says Dillingham.

Dillingham says Republicans want to focus on urgent problems such as filling an expected hole in the state budget after revenues are reprojected at the end of the month. And she says lawmakers should have a role in crafting pandemic response policies that are now being decided solely by Mills. “We are not at the table, we don’t understand the decision making,” Dillingham says. “We don’t understand the data that is being used behind the decisions that are coming forward through executive order that, absolutely, the Legislature should be part of that.”

Dillingham says lawmakers are being flooded with calls from the public asking about some of the decisions Mills has implemented by executive order, such as the limit on gatherings to no more than 50 people.

But Senate President Troy Jackson says that by refusing to work on unfinished business, Republican leaders and their caucuses are not doing their job.

“I am beyond myself when they are going to call themselves leaders when they are, on one hand, they are telling people they want to come back and do the hard work for the people of the state of Maine in an awful time, and, on the other hand, telling their members not to vote on coming in. It’s hypocritical.”

As the partisan wrangling continues, the only way there may be a special session is if the governor herself calls one. So far, she has stayed out of the debate.

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