AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A dustup over masks could raise tensions as the Maine Legislature prepares to return to the State House, which has been closed since March 2020.
The Legislative Council voted to reopen the State House effective Monday while requiring people to continue wearing masks.
Republicans argued that the mask requirement defied federal public health recommendations. Also, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is lifting mask mandates for most Mainers, effective Monday.
The contradictory guidance will only confuse Mainers with the executive branch and legislative branch adopting competing rules on masks, Senate Republicans said Friday.
“The state needs to speak with one voice and its statements regarding the pandemic must be based on science. The governor made her decision based on the latest science from the U.S. CDC and the Legislature should follow that same path,” Jeff Timberlake, Senate Republican leader, said Friday.
During the council meeting, House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, suggested to House Speaker Ryan Fecteau that some in her caucus might ignore the mask requirement.
“What are you going to do when members of my caucus and possibly myself enter that building and we’re not wearing a mask?” she said.
Fecteau said it's better to be safe than sorry, noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends masks for people who are not vaccinated or in crowds of people.
“I would be very regretful if a decision I made here at Legislative Council led to someone getting very ill,” said Fecteau, D-Biddeford.
During the pandemic, the Maine Legislature has been convening for floor sessions at the Augusta Civic Center.
In other pandemic-related news:
The number of COVID-19 infections continues to inch downward in Maine.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has gone from 319 new cases per day on May 5 to 213 new cases per day on May 19.
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 on Friday reported an additional 170 infections and two deaths.
All told, there have been more than 66,700 infections and 818 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the Maine CDC reported.
The Maine Arts Commission is going to distribute more than $750,000 in federal stimulus money for projects that employ artists.
The money comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, which received $135 million from the American Rescue Plan, approved by Congress to reduce the pandemic’s economic toll.
“The focus of this effort is on economic recovery and job creation,” David Greenham, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission, told the Portland Press Herald.
The NEA sent another $1 million to Maine last week as part of its annual funding, with $821,000 going to the Maine Arts Commission to pay for ongoing grant programs and general support.