Lawmakers stand for the national anthem Wednesday during the first legislative session in the State House since the start of the pandemic. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

AUGUSTA — Majority Democrats in the Legislature signaled their solidarity with Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday by solidly defeating several bills seeking to curtail a governor’s executive powers during a state of emergency.

The bills were sponsored by Republicans who have charged Mills, a Democrat, with overstepping her authority as she imposed restrictions on businesses and the public during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The party-line votes in the House defeated eight bills that would have required legislative approval for state-of-emergency declarations or imposed limits on their duration and application.

Republicans have steadily criticized Mills’ handling of the pandemic, even as the state has reported some of the lowest infection and death rates per capita in the United States.

Republicans said the bills were meant to re-establish the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of state government.

“It is also not specifically about what this executive has done or not done, but whether it was done in collaboration with members of the Legislature,” House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said of a bill she sponsored. Dillingham said her bill wasn’t meant to allow lawmakers to be obstructionists, “but rather to allow the citizens’ representatives to be participants in decisions that impact their lives.”


Rep. John Andrews, a Libertarian from Paris, left, sits with Clerk of the House Robert Hunt during a House Ethics Committee meeting Wednesday at the State House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The votes came after a protest Wednesday morning by Rep. John Andrews, a Libertarian Party member from Paris, who refused to comply with legislative rules that require lawmakers, the public and others to continue to wear face coverings inside the State House.

The start of the House floor session was delayed by more than an hour while Democratic House Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford called a meeting of the House Ethics Committee. The panel questioned Andrews and unanimously voted to issue a letter of reprimand against him once Andrews agreed to leave the State House voluntarily. He was given permission to remain on the grounds outside without a mask.

Andrews acknowledged that he was in clear violation of the rules established by the Legislature’s governing body, the Legislative Council. He said the rules requiring masks in public spaces in the State House conflict with guidance from the U.S. CDC and the Mills administration that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear facial coverings indoors.

“I’m a fully vaccinated person,” Andrews said, adding that he was conducting an act of civil disobedience on behalf of his constituents, saying they believe it is well “beyond the time to get back to normal.”

The Legislature’s masking rules for the State House are meant to protect those who may be unable to be vaccinated or who may have family members or young children who are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine.

Andrews was among a group of seven lawmakers that Fecteau sanctioned last month after they entered the State House without face coverings. Fecteau removed Andrews and six Republicans from their committee assignments.

On Wednesday, members of the House Republican caucus said they intended to follow the rules for mask wearing as the Legislature returns to the State House for the first time since March of 2020. Fecteau said he would reinstate the Republicans to their committees if they wear face coverings in accordance with the rules.

Andrews is the only member of the group who protested the mask rules to disclose that he has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Legislative Council voted 6-2 last month to continue to require masks inside legislative spaces. The masking rule has been a subject of ongoing protests by conservative lawmakers, some of whom have violated rules meant to guard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

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