By the time the novel coronavirus reached Maine earlier this year, it was clear that this was not just another flu, as many of us had presumed or hoped. To help prevent its spread, Legislative leaders came to a smart, bipartisan agreement to adjourn early. The State House is a place where people from every corner of the state gather, with many of our staff and citizen lobbyists commuting from a distance. An outbreak centered there would undoubtedly have had devastating consequences. While I don’t think anyone was pleased that our work was cut short, we all agreed that it truly was the best decision to make.

So after a whirlwind day in March, legislators and staff alike returned to our homes  — though it became clear our work was far from over. Between making sure members of our community are aware of changing public safety guidelines and working with unemployed Mainers to get the benefits they are owed and have a right to, I have been incredibly active. I am sure the same can be said for every legislator in the state. We have heard countless heartbreaking stories. This pandemic and our necessary response to it have created a variety of challenges for people. This period has been an important reminder of why I chose to run for the Legislature in the first place: to help my neighbors when they need it the most, and to be an advocate for them at the state level.

When my Republican colleagues began champing at the bit to reconvene the Legislature for a special session several months ago, I chose to believe, as I have so many times, that they were doing so out of a sense of duty to their constituents.

Once the Legislature has adjourned for the year, we can only be called back for a special session by order of the governor or by a call from the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. In order for the Speaker and President to call for a special session, they need an agreement to do so from a majority of legislators from each party.

As Maine’s COVID-19 cases stabilized and then began to drop, it was agreed that it might be safe to return to Augusta for a special session, with safety guidelines in place as recommended by Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah and other experts. To begin the process of returning, the President and Speaker sent out a poll to legislators, in accordance with Maine’s Constitution. After months of calling for our return, you can imagine my surprise, and the surprise of many of my colleagues, when the vast majority of Republican lawmakers didn’t respond to the poll at all.

I have heard they have concerns about making sure we’re not in Augusta overlong, a concern all lawmakers share. But this poll was not about setting an agenda — it was simply the first step in gauging how legislators felt about returning to finish our work, which has been our plan since adjourning back in March.

In early spring, when the pandemic hit Maine, lawmakers agreed across party lines to do what’s right for the people of Maine. I am dismayed and disappointed to see that bipartisan cooperation has fallen apart. Still, I am hopeful that some agreement may be reached. There are many other legislators who share in that hope, and committees have continued to meet and work on the bills we shelved in March, to prepare for a special session.

Until then, if you have any questions, ideas or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can reach me at 207-287-1515 or by emailing [email protected] My job does not begin and end on the steps of the State House. I am still here for you, your family and your neighbors.

State Sen. Eloise Vitelli represents Senate District 23: Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich and the unorganized township of Perkins.

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