Legislative Alert: First Week of the Legislative Session Update
The 130th Maine State Legislature convened on Wednesday, December 2nd to be sworn-in, to elect the Speaker and the Senate President, and to elect Maine’s Constitutional Officers. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, the events were held at the Augusta Civic Center with no public access allowed, including the family and friends of the legislators. Governor Mills was required to go into quarantine on Tuesday and was thus unable to fulfill her official duty of swearing-in the Senators and Representatives. Instead Acting Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court, Andrew M. Meade, took on that responsibility.
In the State Senate the proceeding moved along rapidly given that Senate President Troy Jackson, Secretary of the Senate Darek Grant, and Assistant Secretary of the Senate Marcia Homstead were each re-elected through the casting of a unanimous single ballot. Senator Rick Bennett was unable to be attendance due to being diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, and Senator Shenna Bellows was not sworn-in due to her being the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State. Both Senate President Jackson and Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake addressed the body. Both stressed the need to work in a bipartisan fashion to address the needs of Maine’s citizens, especially noting the COVID crisis and resulting impacts on Maine’s people and businesses.
The proceedings of the State House of Representatives took somewhat longer, but moved ahead smoothly. While the results were as expected in that Rep. Ryan Fecteau was elected Speaker of the House, and Rob Hunt and Jennifer McGowan were re-elected as Clerk and Assistant Clerk of the House respectively, the Republicans did nominate Rep. Lester Ordway for Speaker and Republican staffer Shawn Roderick for Clerk.
The most notable action in both chambers was the passage of amended Joint Rules governing how the Legislature will proceed to do their work this session. In addition to passing the traditional rules of the most recent past session they also passed rules that will allow them to meet, and most importantly vote, remotely. Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham did ask for and receive clarification that the amended rules apply only to committee work and do not allow remote voting on matters before the Senate and House. The modified rules also allow the Chairs and Leads of each committee to review all the bills that have been referred to their committee, and if the majority of this group agree, send the bill back to the House or Senate to be referred to a different committee. The full rules changes are attached.
During the afternoon, the Senate joined the House in a joint session in order to elect the Constitutional Officers. The Democrats had held a joint caucus the evening before to choose their candidates for each position. No Democrats challenged the re-election of Attorney General Aaron Frey or State Treasurer Henry Beck. Current Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is termed out of office, but ran unopposed in the caucus for the State Auditor position, Current Auditor Pola Buckley is also termed out of her office.
The Secretary of State position was hotly contested within the Democratic caucus by the Honorable Tom Bull, the Honorable Justin Chenette, the Honorable Craig Hickman, the Honorable Erik Jorgenson, the Honorable Matt Moonen, and State Senator Shenna Bellows. Senator Bellows prevailed in the caucus vote, which, in the 5th and final round of the voting, was between Jorgenson and Bellows. It is usually difficult for a Senator to beat a recent House member in any of these races, and it was thought that even Senate Democrats might not want to have a Special Election in a swing district if they could avoid it. As a result of Bellows’ election, there will be a special election in Senate District 14 likely in February.
In the joint session, all four Democrats won their respective races. The Republicans did nominate the Honorable Eric Brakey for Secretary of State, the Honorable Dennis Keschl for State Treasurer, the Honorable Alex Willette for Attorney General, and Ben Lombard for State Auditor. Matt Dunlap will need to become a CPA, certified internal auditor, or certified information systems auditor within nine months to remain in the position.
Before the House officially adjourned, Rep. Faulkingham addressed the body on the record complaining that the previous Legislature had not come into Special Session to address the COVID crisis, and to take away Governor Mills right to pass Emergency Orders. He went on to say that the body should immediately commence doing their work. Speaker Fecteau then adjourned the body until the call of the Speaker and the Senate President.
Legislative leadership has indicated that committee assignments may be released as soon as next week. Finally, the Legislature has officially set Friday, December 18th as the Cloture date, so please contact us if you have any need to submit bills to the 130th Legislature (2021).