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Politics

Maine Republicans Propose Limiting Governor's Emergency Powers

Janet Mills
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
In this March 12, 2020 file photo, Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

The Maine Legislature is considering more than a dozen bills that would limit the duration and scope of the governor’s emergency powers.

The proposals are part of a Republican-led pushback on Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ use of an emergency declaration in response to the pandemic that just surpassed its one-year anniversary.

Republican state Sen. Lisa Keim, of Dixfield, told lawmakers on the State and Local Government Committee on Monday that even the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic are not justification for one-person decision-making.

“No matter the efficacy of top-down mandates, without the people’s alliance, no battle against an enemy seen or unseen can be victorious,” Keim said.

Mills’ legal counsel says the bills are a misguided response that could hamper future chief executives.

Jerry Reid told lawmakers that the Legislature already has the ability to end an emergency proclamation by a majority vote in the House and Senate. He also said that the pandemic required quick and ongoing response for which the Legislature is often ill-suited.

“Legislatures are highly effective policymaking bodies, but are not well designed to make numerous, time-sensitive, emergency management decisions in rapid succession in response to continually emerging circumstances,” he said.

The proposals come amid a national push in state legislatures to limit the powers of governors, nearly all of whom have played leading roles during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly half of state legislatures have introduced bills this year seeking to curb governors’ emergency powers. In many instances, the bills have been backed by Republicans in states led by Democratic governors.

Democrats controlled the Maine Legislature last year and still hold a majority. Some Democrats have criticized Mills’ decisions on occasion, but there are no signals that any of the GOP bills have the support to become law.