With the COVID circulating widely and the vaccination effort still in its infancy, most people are trying to do the right things to limit the spread of the virus — and the Legislature is no different.

Lawmakers were sworn in Dec. 2 at the Augusta Civic Center, rather  than the State House, to allow for safe distancing, and when they start the real legislative work this month, it will be done virtually.

But while Zoom can with a click of a few buttons bring legislators from all over the state, and allow lobbyists and other residents to weigh in on bills from their own living rooms, it cannot replace the face-to-face discussions and offhand conversations that often move legislation forward — and help keep things civil in the sometimes contentiously divided Legislature.

Legislative leaders should keep this in mind for the coming session. They should do everything possible to get lawmakers together — safely — in order to keep open something resembling the normal lines of communication.

And there is every reason to think legislators can meet safely in person, in some form. According to research conducted over the last 10 months, schools have been able to safely conduct in-person instruction without accelerating community transmission of COVID-19, as long as measures mitigating the spread are closely followed by everyone involved.

That, of course, includes universal face mask use, an area where some Republican lawmakers have fallen short. Legislative leaders this week tightened the policy for members governing COVID prevention, though it still allows legislators to use less-effective face shields instead of masks.


The concern over the virus is not academic — Gov. Mills and Sen. Rick Bennett missed the Dec. 2 swearing-in ceremony because they were quarantining after being exposed.

If it’s important to lawmakers to meet in person in some capacity, then all of them should commit to taking the steps to keep everyone safe.

And it should be important. In-person meetings help legislators build the relationships that allow legislation to move forward. They keep positions from hardening and misconceptions from ballooning into something more destructive. They are an antidote to the strict partisanship that stops work in its tracks.

All that will be necessary if the Legislature is to tackle all the important issues in front of it this year, including the two-year budget, the response to COVID, and the need for more high-speed internet in parts of Maine.

So much gets done in the halls of the State House, in between hearings, work sessions and votes.

But those halls now, for the most part, are empty. Legislators should find a way to make up for it.

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