After months of calling for the Legislature to reconvene,
Republicans fail to weigh in when it matters

AUGUSTA – On Thursday, a proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon to reconvene the Legislature for a special session in August was denied by Maine Republican lawmakers after they refused to participate in the poll. This failure to vote comes after months of public statements and press events from Republicans urging the Presiding Officers to call the Legislature into session. All Democratic, Independent and Tribal members of the Legislature voted in favor of reconvening the Maine Legislature in August at the Augusta Civic Center. The final vote was:

Democrats (55 Yes votes needed):

109 Yes      0 No

Republicans (36 Yes votes needed):

1 Yes           2 No       67 No Response  

Independents:

6 Yes 0 No 0 No Response

Tribal Member:

1 Yes 0 No 0 No Response

Statement from Speaker of the House Sara Gideon:

“As Mainers across the state face outstanding hardships – the loss of employment, the closing of a business, housing insecurity, uncertainty surrounding childcare and education – state lawmakers are uniquely positioned to understand the severe impact this crisis is having and to propose urgent and equitable legislation to help mitigate that damage. That’s why we have called on every legislator to come do their jobs, address those needs and return to work.  

“Unfortunately, when presented with the question about returning to our important work, the way thousands of hard-working Mainers are today, certain members chose not to participate. It is increasingly difficult to take my Republican colleagues’ repeated demands of reconvening the Legislature seriously when they have just refused to vote to take that very action.

“Maine people and businesses have adapted with incredible patience, and faced an unprecedented challenge. I am certain the Legislature is perfectly capable of following that lead. Mainers don’t expect us to leave the job half done and we will take every action available to continue providing much-needed assistance during this time.”

Statement from Senate President Troy Jackson:

“Right now, Mainers all across the state are looking at lawmakers for relief. The latest COVID-19 data indicates that we have a window to reconvene in a way that doesn’t jeopardize staff or communities all across the state. Now is the time for lawmakers to roll up their sleeves and finish the job we were hired to do. Doing our job shouldn’t be a partisan issue, yet my Republican colleagues couldn’t even be bothered to participate in the official poll to determine whether or not the Legislature should reconvene.

“For months, Republican lawmakers have vocally called for the legislature to reconvene in public statements, letters and press conferences. However, it turns out that this was all talk. When it came time to actually decide whether to go back into session or not, Republicans refused to even weigh in. When speaking up could have actually made a difference, they remained silent.

“Back in March, all four legislative leaders put aside partisan politics and came together for the good of the state, recognizing the severity of this crisis and the leadership the movement required. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t do the same today. Right now, there are measures to support Maine businesses who stepped up to produce PPE during this crisis, help families can access clean drinking water and ensure people can afford their prescription drugs. We also have the opportunity to deliver targeted relief to small businesses and families that have been hit incredibly hard by this unprecedented crisis. By voting against reconvening the Maine Legislature, my Republican colleagues are sending a clear message to all of us: these issues can afford to wait; Maine people and small businesses can afford to wait. I’m deeply disappointed in my colleagues and I would imagine Maine people are too.”

BACKGROUND

Presiding Officers are granted the power to reconvene the Legislature “with the consent of a majority of the Members of the Legislature of each political party, all Members of the Legislature having been first polled” pursuant Article IV of the Maine Constitution. With that authority, Presiding Officers have the power to determine how members are polled. 

When lawmakers last called themselves in for a special session in 2018, Speaker Gideon and then-Senate President Thibodeau directed the nonpartisan parliamentarians to record the votes and determine whether or not there was the required support to reconvene for a special legislative session. Such a vote is a matter of public record, accessible to both members of the press and the public. Speaker Gideon and Senate President Jackson chose to implement the same process in this instance.

Instead, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate claim to have conducted their own private polls, in violation of the Constitution, and reported that a majority of members voted against reconvening late yesterday evening. Both Senate President Jackson and Speaker Gideon immediately responded to the minority leaders, again outlining the polling process and addressing their stated concerns. 

The Maine Legislature had unanimously voted to adjourn sine die March 17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and growing number of COVID-19 cases detected in Maine. Legislative leaders in both the House and Senate agreed to carry over all unresolved bills to a special session for consideration.