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As Lawmakers Head Back To State House, Another Disagreement Over Masking

Ryan Fecteau
Robert F. Bukaty
Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, addresses the Legislature, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine.

Maine's Legislative Council has unanimously voted to start using the State House once again for meetings and sessions of the legislature starting next week. But Republicans and Democrats sparred over mask requirements.

The legislature has been holding its sessions at the Augusta Civic Center as part of the effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19. They also have been holding virtual hearings.

Legislative leaders voted Thursday to continue the virtual committee meetings for the rest of the session, but to return June 2 to the State House for formal sessions.

But leaders split over maintaining the mandate that members that members wear masks in common areas, including the House and Senate chambers.

"If you think the session has been bad so far, wait 'til you try to tell all the legislators in the state of Maine, all the legislators in the state of Maine, that they are going to wear a mask," says Republican Sen. Jeff Timberlake.

Republicans on the council tried to amend the policy to leave mask wearing up to individual lawmakers. Democrats voted that down.

House Speaker Ryan Fecteau was questioned about what would happen to those lawmakers that did not wear masks.

He responded, "If an individual in a legislative space is not in compliance with this policy, legislative staff is expected to leave the legislative space. Capitol Police are responsible for the enforcement of the Legislative Council’s COVID-19 prevention policy. So the policy spells out.”

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