Maine Lawmaking Continues Through the Pandemic

by Senator Rick Bennett

It was a busy two-day legislative session in mid-March.

Two items were of particularly noteworthy in the Maine Senate.  First, I introduced a joint resolution to end the state of emergency.  In my floor speech, I pointed out that the emergency Governor Mills proclaimed a full year ago has been extended 11 times.  This in turn has meant effectively surrendering many legislative powers to the executive branch.  I said that stopping the emergency powers were “not about ending as much as it is about a beginning.”  I continued:

“This is about restoring the functioning of our democracy.  And it is critical that we do so.  Our country has seen dark days in our history.  And we’ve seen some over the past months here in Maine and across the nation with the COVID pandemic. 

“For sensible reasons, in the early days of the pandemic, we relied on robust executive leadership – as we often must during an emergency. But a central tenet of our fragile democracy is separation of powers.  The Legislature has a unique role in being the ears, the eyes and the voice of the people.  As I think we all will agree there has been pernicious degradations of our democratic traditions over these past months and indeed over these past few years.  The continued violation of our doctrine of separation of powers compounds this.  As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, separation of powers is ‘admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty.’

We have experienced national emergencies in the past, and we’ve persevered in keeping our democracy functioning.  In World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt provided vigorous leadership, but Congress kept meeting, passing laws, debating policy, providing oversight.  Operating in the fashion of recent months must be the exception, not the rule.  We cannot shut off democracy because it is inconvenient, because it is easier to let the someone else do it. 

Friends, it’s time to do our jobs as the elected representatives of the people.  The Governor has her job to do.  We have ours.  It’s time to end this state of emergency.

Unhappily, my resolution failed in the Senate – however, it won the support of 3 Democrats and all 12 Republican. 

Second, the Legislature passed the Supplemental Budget that saved Maine taxpayers $140 million with just days to spare before many small businesses faced the filing deadline for their 2020 taxes – along with estimated payments! 

I voted early on to support the budget, though some Republicans held out to try to win support for a tax break for big multinational corporations.  When I asked on the Senate floor for examples of what Maine businesses benefited from these breaks and how, no one could answer.  I joined 20 Democrats and 1 other Republican on the vote that followed.  After more back and forth, the final version that was enacted was very close to this version, including fully deductible Payroll Protection Program (PPP) expenses, a tax cut for recipients of unemployment during the pandemic, and $8 million more for the Rainy Day Fund.

That budget only takes us to the end of June.  The Legislature now turns its attention to approving a two-year budget covering July 2021 through June 2023.

Of course, there are a lot of bills that are now being consider in our 17 policy committees.  Committees are meeting by Zoom, so it is very easy for you to participate.  You can submit testimony here:  https://www.mainelegislature.org/testimony/

And you can watch public hearings and work sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/mainestatelegislature

Senator Richard A. Bennett (R-Oxford) represents Bridgton, Brownfield, Denmark, Fryeburg, Harrison, Hiram, Naples, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Porter, and Sebago.  He can be reached at Richard.Bennett@legislature.maine.gov.

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