AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, Maine’s Legislative Council adopted a new policy requiring all individuals to wear protective face coverings during legislative committee meetings to protect the health and safety of legislators, legislative staff and others amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Members are not required to wear a mask if they are participating remotely. The vote was 7-1-2 with Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford voting against this safety measure. Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, and Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle failed to return the ballot registering their vote, despite multiple attempts contacted.
The Legislative Council is a bipartisan committee comprising members of House and Senate leadership. Full policy below.
Statement from Senate President Troy Jackson:
“Today, legislative leadership adopted a critical policy to protect the health and safety of lawmakers and staff as we begin returning to the State House amid COVID-19. This is a commonsense policy that reflects what Dr. Fauci, Dr. Shah, and other public health experts have reported – wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of this virus and is essential to reopening the economy.
“More than a hundred Mainers have lost their lives due to this virus. We’ve lost beloved grandparents, decorated veterans and pillars of our communities. We owe it to them and their loved ones to take COVID-19 seriously and to enact policies that allow us to do our work in a sage, CDC-compliant manner. I’m disappointed that we couldn’t reach a unanimous vote on this responsible policy change. I’m even more disappointed that Sen. Timberlake and Rep. Stewart couldn’t be bothered to weigh in on this decision when they stood on the steps earlier this week calling to reconvene the Legislature. This policy is about our commitment to the health and safety of our staff, colleagues and communities.
“As we look to reconvene, we must do everything in our power to protect the people of this state and the hardworking staff who draft legislation, calculate fiscal notes and run this building. Otherwise, we risk spreading the virus from one area of the state to another. With businesses reopening, hospitalizations stabilizing and deaths slowing, allowing members to forgo a face mask is simply a risk we cannot and will not take.”
Statement from Speaker of the House Sara Gideon:
“This new policy allows us to continue our legislative work, while preventing us from doing harm to those who work in the State House and the communities we travel home to. As we know, the U.S. CDC recommends the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. As we look towards reconvening the Legislature, it’s discouraging that some of our Republican colleagues would not support this proven public health practice. Certain health and safety measures will be necessary to continue our legislative work in a responsible manner.
“In the past three months, Maine people and businesses have done their part and made remarkable sacrifices to lead us to where we are today, with declining case counts and hospitalizations slowing. In order to maintain these gains and keep our frontline workers safe, we need to follow the best public health guidance available to us, including wearing a face covering. This is critical to both stopping continued spread and safely reopening our economy.”
Legislative Council Policy on the
Wearing of Protective Face Coverings During Authorized Meetings of Legislative Committees
To protect the health and safety of Legislators, legislative staff and others in light of the risks presented by the highly contagious COVID-19, in order for an authorized meeting of a legislative committee to be conducted, all individuals must wear protective face coverings in a manner that covers the nose and mouth during that authorized meeting:
- When present in the committee room in which the meeting is initially convened and from which it is conducted; and
- When present in any other committee room used for purposes of remote participation in the meeting if any other person is also present in that room; protective coverings may be removed when an individual is in a room alone.
If a Legislator or legislative staff person is unable to wear a protective face covering due to a medical condition, or wishes to not wear a protective face covering, the chairs of the committee conducting the meeting shall seek to provide an appropriate, separate space that allows that individual safely, without a protective face covering, to perform his or her functions during the meeting.
An individual shall seek to maintain at all times a distance of at least 6 feet from others during an authorized meeting of a legislative committee whenever that individual is present in the committee room in which the meeting is initially convened and from which it is conducted or is present in any other committee room used for purposes of remote participation in the meeting.