This week marks the beginning of a consequential stretch for the Legislature. Not only will lawmakers take up Gov. Mills’ $187 million supplemental budget, which would fund 55 percent of K-12 education for the first time in state history, but they’ll also get into the governor’s $1.13 billion proposal for COVID stimulus funds.

State Rep. Laurel Libby, holding her phone, stands with Republican colleagues May 24 at a security station while she asks to talk to the House speaker about a policy at the State House that mandates masks. Screenshot from video

They’ll take on “forever chemicals” and Maine’s drug laws, too, as well as a series of other bills affecting people’s well-being and wallets.

Yet rather than getting down to business, a few legislators are threatening to disrupt the Legislature’s work this week by refusing to wear masks in public areas of the State House, as is required by a policy established by legislative leaders.

If that is indeed their intent, they should reconsider. Such a stunt won’t change the policy or any minds – it will only inflame the tension between people who disagree on masks, and get in the way of the important work that must be done in Augusta.

Seven lawmakers – six Republicans and a Libertarian – early last week walked into the State House without face coverings, in direct contradiction to the rules set by the Legislative Council, the group of legislative leaders that now has a Democratic majority. One taped the encounter, then used it to raise money for re-election.

In response, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, a Democrat, removed all those involved from their committee memberships. The mask policy remains in place, and Fecteau has said additional sanctions may be imposed if it is not followed.

The rule-flouting lawmakers have complained that the mask mandate is no longer necessary, and in doing so misrepresented Gov. Mills’ recent order on face coverings.

The governor’s order, which last week dropped the mask mandate for most indoor gatherings, prompting the legislators’ mask-less walk-in, specifically states that workplaces can decide for themselves how to keep their workers and visitors safe.

In the case of the Legislature, which is also a workplace, it is the Legislative Council that makes the rules – a power given to them in the state constitution.

The mask mandate is being kept in place, Fecteau said, to protect lawmakers, staff and the public, some of whom have children under 12, who cannot be vaccinated yet, or others in their household who may have compromised immune systems and thus are vulnerable to COVID.

It is a perfectly reasonable choice, the same one that many other workplaces around the state are making now, too. Should Mainers feel free to walk into those places without a mask just because they don’t want to wear one? Is that what these legislators would have them do – harass any business or organization still wary about the virus that has dominated our lives for a year?

Instead, legislators should set the right example. They can continue to argue that the State House mask requirement should be removed – but in the meantime, they should slip one on, without all the drama, and do the work they were elected to do.


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