AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Tensions between Republicans and Democrats over the use of masks lingered in the Maine Legislature on Wednesday when lawmakers returned to the Maine State House.
Maine has lifted mask requirements in most of the state, but they are still required at the state house. Numerous Republican lawmakers have criticized the requirement, and six Republican members and one Libertarian were stripped of committee assignments last week for refusing to comply with the rule.
The Legislature met in the state house Wednesday for the first time since before the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Several Republican members of the Maine House of Representatives walked the hall of the state house wearing plastic face shields instead of the required masks, and some wore no face coverings at all.
Democratic House Speaker Ryan Fecteau said late Tuesday that he would consider reappointing the conservative lawmakers to their committee assignments if they complied with the mask rule going forward. The House Republicans have declined to comment on the offer as a group.
“I did receive the letter,” said Republican Rep Heidi Sampson, one of the lawmakers removed from a committee assignment. “It's worth thinking about.”
At least one representative arrived at a security checkpoint without a mask Wednesday, said Jenna Howard, a spokesperson for the office of the house speaker.
The lawmaker, Libertarian Rep. John Andrews, will face a letter of reprimand from the House Ethics Committee and agreed to leave the state house voluntarily, the Portland Press Herald reported. Andrews said he is fully vaccinated against coronavirus, and that the mask rule conflicted with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He was one of the members stripped of a committee assignment last week.
The Republican members of the Maine Senate, however, “intend to follow the rules set by the Legislative Council including wearing masks,” said Tom Desjardin, a spokesman for the senators.
Wednesday's session also attracted demonstrators who oppose mask rules. Several masked demonstrators arrived holding signs with slogans such as “Masks = Muzzles” and “Let Kids Breath.”
The Legislature had been using the Augusta Civic Center elsewhere in Maine’s capital city as a temporary home. The building allowed lawmakers and staff to spread out during meetings.
Lawmakers were scheduled to meet in the state house Wednesday and Thursday. They had a loaded agenda including potential tweaks to the state's retirement system and expansion of dental coverage.
The Maine House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, rejected a series of proposals Wednesday from Republicans that were designed to limit emergency powers wielded by the governor. Republicans have said for months that Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has had too much authority during the pandemic and a “state of civil emergency” she declared has gone on for too long.