PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine's Democratic house speaker stripped seven conservative lawmakers of committee assignments on Monday after the group had a confrontation with Capitol Police about mask rules in the Maine State House.
Republican Rep. Laurel Libby released a video of the confrontation, in which the lawmakers entered the state house without masks on. A Capitol Police officer approached the group, and members said they weren't required to wear masks and continued on.
The lawmakers' actions came after the Legislative Council decided last week along party lines to require masks when lawmakers return to the state house, even though a statewide requirement is ending. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau said the mask rules are about demonstrating “a respect for our shared workplace" and shouldn't be a partisan issue.
“I simply will not tolerate attempts to devolve our institution into showmanship and political theater,” Fecteau said in a public letter to the members of the Maine House of Representatives on Monday.
Libby and the other members, some of whom are prominent critics of mask rules in the state, will be replaced by Democrats on their committees, according to documents filed by Fecteau.
Maine Republican leaders said the lawmakers were unnecessarily impeded while attempting to enter the state house for legislative business.
“When it became clear that Capitol Security and nonpartisan staff lacked the legal authority and or applicable policies to prevent our entry, we proceeded into the State House to complete our work,” the seven lawmakers said in a statement.
RELAXED MASK RULES
The dust-up at the Maine State House took place as relaxed mask rules were taking effect in the rest of the state. The new rules meant residents no longer needed to wear face coverings indoors in most situations.
Maine residents, with the exception of state employees, can go maskless in most indoor settings, except for schools and day care.
State officials are still recommending that people who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 wear a mask indoors.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, made the decision in mid-May to align the state rules with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is also lifting physical distancing requirements at indoor public settings where people are eating or drinking, such as bars and restaurants.
But state employees will have to wear masks in shared indoor work spaces until at least July 7, the state budget commissioner said in a Friday memo.
Businesses, meanwhile, are free to set their own rules, but one major supermarket chain already relaxed its mask rules.
Hannaford announced that vaccinated customers no longer had to wear masks effective Monday in Maine. Customers who have not been vaccinated are asked to continue to wear a mask inside the stores.
Monday was also the first day for several other newly relaxed pandemic requirements. That includes a removal of all capacity limits in public settings, whether indoor or outdoor.
The state's efforts to get COVID-19 vaccines to people are still ongoing. The state's mobile vaccine unit is headed to Milbridge Marina in Washington County from Thursday to Saturday.
“The mobile vaccine unit is heading your way,” the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement.
The number of daily cases of coronavirus continued to fall, but the number of daily deaths edged up.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 306.71 new cases a day on May 8 to 180.43 new cases a day on Saturday. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 0.86 deaths a day on May 8 to 2.57 deaths a day Saturday.
The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that 822 people in the state have died of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The state has also logged more than 67,000 total cases of the virus.
About half the state's total population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
An inn in Camden is requiring guests to show proof of coronavirus vaccination or wear a mask indoors.
The decision by the Camden Harbour Inn is an example of the patchwork of private business decisions about masks that will likely emerge around the state in the coming weeks.
“We are very excited to see that, because of all the people getting vaccinated, we are able to offer bit by bit a more normalized service at the hotel and restaurant,” the inn said in a Facebook post.
Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report.