As you picture the Maine Legislature, you probably picture the big chamber with the Speaker or Senate President in front and all the members sitting in neat rows. But as your representatives in Augusta, those big formal chambers are not where we spend most of our time or where most of our work gets done. Every member of the Legislature serves on at least one of the many committees that are the real centers of our work in the legislative branch of government. Each of the committees holds hearings on the bills that are within their scope of focus – ranging from taxation, to marine resources, to education and criminal justice, etc. Every committee is made up of Republicans, Democrats and (in some cases) Independents from the House and the Senate and has two co-chairs, one from each body. I am proud to serve as the House Chair of the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee (HCIFS).

Consumer protections in health care insurance, creating equity in health care coverage and reducing the cost of pharmaceuticals are our focus. This past session HCIFS finalized the “Made for Maine Health Coverage Act,” which improves private health insurance for Maine people and small businesses by making some of the most common medical visits free or less costly, simplifies shopping for a plan and leverages federal funds to help lower premiums. The committee also passed a suite of health care bills that eliminates surprise medical billing for Emergency Room visits, reduces the price of important medications and more. Comprehensive care in Maine should not be limited by gender, pre-existing conditions or income.

This work earned Maine an “A” grade for drug transparency laws in the 2020 Report Card on State Price Transparency Laws. I am very proud of the work our committee did to get these bills passed, some of them on a short timeline to pass these important laws before our early adjournment due to the pandemic. Legislators brought us some good bills, but we worked hard on them to make certain they would create the kind of transparency and price reductions that Mainers need. These results were largely achieved with bipartisan agreement.

The role of committees is vital to the legislative process. It provides the public an opportunity to weigh in on policy issues through public hearings, and it fosters strong working relationships among members on different sides of the aisle. A legislative committee is often where bipartisanship can be seen at work. The process allows for legislators to ask questions, share their own perspectives, debate and finally vote on a recommendation that is then sent to the full Legislature for consideration. This process is in-depth and creates opportunities for lawmakers who do not always agree, to have open conversation about difficult topics. More often than not, the dialogue leads to more agreements than disagreements. In my committee, more than 83% of bills were passed unanimously, meaning the Republicans and Democrats agreed on whether the bill should move forward for a vote in the Legislature or not.

Constituents often ask me, why can’t you just get along and come to agreement for the people of Maine? Well, the truth is, that much of the time, we do. Consequently, Maine’s Legislature gets work done that Washington cannot. The focus tends to be on the division between the political parties, but the truth is, we’re all Maine citizens who have lived experiences that form our thoughts and opinions. In Augusta, we might not always agree, but more often than not, we get along with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and we find common ground. The bipartisan work seen in committees can be a good lesson for us as the global pandemic carries on. We all share the common goal of keeping our loved ones safe. We can work together to make that happen.

Denise Tepler, D, represents Topsham as the District 54 representative to the Maine House.

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