Committee work reveals strong bipartisan support for critical legislation

AUGUSTA — Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon again instructed parliamentary officers to issue a poll question to members of the Maine Legislature regarding reconvening for a possible special session in August at the Augusta Civic Center. This new poll question comes after legislative committees finalized nearly all unfinished committee work from the Second Regular Session of the 129th Legislature with a majority of strong, bipartisan votes last week. Together, Democrats, Republicans and Independents have reported 162 bills out of committee. 74 percent had the support of Democrats and Republicans and 48 percent had unanimous support. Lawmakers have 24 hours to respond and must record their position directly with the parliamentary officer in their chamber.

Statement from House Speaker Sara Gideon:
“A vote to reconvene provides an opportunity to have a real discussion about the hardship Maine families and small businesses are experiencing and how the Maine Legislature can provide targeted relief in a way that bolsters our economy. Many of us have been vocal about the critical need to address the allocation of CARES Act funding, school readiness and the impact the pandemic is having on our small businesses. Now is the time to act on those priorities.

“Mainers across the state are hard at work every day. They’ve adapted to continue their jobs amid a public health crisis. In the past month, our committees have come together in a bipartisan fashion, with full transparency, to outline the work ahead of us. I encourage every legislator to do the same — agree to reconvene and address the needs of Mainers.”

Statement from Senate President Troy Jackson:

“There’s been a lot of rhetoric around a possible special session and the need to respond to urgent issues. But where I’m from, actions speak louder than words. Once again the Speaker and I have put a poll out to the Legislature asking members if they favor reconvening for a brief special session in August at the Augusta Civic Center. It’s a chance for the Legislature to finish the job and deliver for Maine people. By voting to reconvene the Legislature, Maine lawmakers will show us which lawmakers show up when we need them most and which lawmakers only say they’ll be there.

“Over the past two months, Maine lawmakers – Democrat, Republican and Independent – have put aside their differences and put the needs of Maine people first by working together to wrap up outstanding committee work. And the results speak for themselves, with 74 percent of votes earning bipartisan support. This is how we set the agenda in the Legislature – lawmakers working together in an open, transparent and bipartisan manner to make tough decisions – not secret, backroom negotiations among legislative leaders. 

“Now that we have a clear, limited scope of work cut out for us, I’m hopeful my colleagues in the Legislature will join me to vote in favor of a special session and record that vote with the parliamentary officer in their chamber. Maine people are counting on us to support Maine families, small businesses and seniors. We have measures to ensure Maine veterans get vital services, to rein in prescription drug costs, to address racial inequity in our systems, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect small businesses from being penalized for receiving federal emergency loans.”


BACKGROUND

Earlier this month, all but three legislative Republicans failed to record their vote in a poll put out by the presiding officers regarding a possible special session in August. 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 Maine Constitution grants the Presiding Officers 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 and responsibility to determine how members are polled and validate the results of that poll. 

When lawmakers last called themselves in for a special session in 2018, Speaker Gideon and then-Senate President Mike Thibodeau directed the nonpartisan parliamentarians to record the votes and determine whether 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 polling process.

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.