Gov. Janet Mills and legislative leaders say they’re not giving up on passing an emergency heating and energy relief bill to help Mainers this winter, though they may not take up the $474 million proposal until the Legislature reconvenes in January.

As leaders plan their next moves, they’re laying the blame at each other’s feet.

Eight Republicans locked arms and blocked passage of the bill on Wednesday night after it was overwhelmingly approved by the House. Democrats hold 22 of the 35 seats in the Senate and needed only two Republican votes to achieve the two-thirds majority needed for emergency enactment. Every Republican present opposed the measure. Five Republicans and one Democrat were absent.

Mills spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said the governor is deeply concerned about “potentially dire consequences” as high energy prices threaten Mainers’ ability to remain safe and warm this winter. She said Mills plans to meet with Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross about next steps, but it wasn’t clear when that would happen.

Crete said that Mills negotiated in good faith, calling the bill “a substantive compromise for Republicans, only to have Senate Republicans walk away.”

“The truth is that Senate Republicans bear the full responsibility for their rejection of this much-needed proposal and they bear the responsibility to reengage in this process by reconsidering their vote,” Crete said.


Crete urged Republicans to reevaluate their opposition to the bill.

“Maine people are concerned that eight Republican politicians – a minority of the minority – stood in the way of delivering sorely needed help and relief to 880,000 people across the state,” Crete said. “We hope Republicans will recognize the serious and legitimate concerns expressed by Maine people, regain the rightful sense of urgency they felt about this issue before the election, and reconsider their vote.”

Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, speaks to lawmakers Wednesday on the first day of the 131st Legislature. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until Jan. 4. The Senate president and House speaker could call a special session before then to vote again on the bill, but that would require the support of a majority of each party’s caucus in each chamber.

On Thursday, Talbot Ross said she expects the Legislature to take the emergency bill up again in January and do everything possible to get the bipartisan support needed to send it to Mills’ desk as soon as possible. It remains the Legislature’s top priority, she said.

The Portland Democrat called the Senate’s Wednesday night vote “truly disappointing” and “gut-wrenching.”

“My understanding is that there was some frustration around the process,” she said. “My frustration is that we’re not getting to help Mainers immediately – all Mainers across the state, that are not Ds, that are not Rs, that are not Is. They are people who are struggling.”


While campaigning this fall, Republicans raised concerns about high heating and energy prices, calling for quick action to address them.

The package, funded through surplus and other one-time funds, would have delivered a round of $450 checks to individuals earning $100,000 and couples filing jointly earning $200,000 – income limits that were increased by $25,000 and $50,000 respectively at Republicans’ request. The average Maine family would receive a total of $900. The proposal also included $50 million for home heating assistance and $21 million for emergency housing assistance to prevent evictions.

Democrats warned that without immediate assistance, Mainers were at risk of being evicted, unsheltered during the winter and go to extreme, dangerous and potentially fatal lengths to find other ways to heat their homes and stay warm.


Senate Republicans opposed the proposal, citing concerns about the expedited process. They tried to send the bill to the Legislature’s budget-writing committee for review and a public hearing. Members are not usually appointed until the end of December, although Republicans urged Jackson to stand-up the committee more quickly.

Jackson said those calls were “disingenuous” because Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, hadn’t sent him any recommendations for committee assignments.


Stewart, however, said he recommended appointing Sen. Rick Bennett to the committee first thing Thursday morning, saying “the ball is in their court.”

“We are now just waiting on Troy to do his job and quickly call in the committee as the presiding officer so that we can quickly get transparency and accountability built into this measure as we understand the urgency of this crisis and hope our Democratic colleagues do as well,” Stewart said.

Stewart did not respond to a question about whether Republicans had specific objections to any parts of the bill.

MaineHousing says it has enough money to cover the Low Income Heating Assistance Program applications this winter, but the funding will not go as far as it has in the past because of high fuel prices.

“We respect that the Legislature and the governor need to work things out procedurally and politically, but MaineHousing does support additional state heating help for Maine residents,” MaineHousing spokesperson Scott Thistle said. “It is much needed and it will make a big difference to many, many Maine households.”



Jackson, meanwhile, accused Senate Republicans of playing politics with the emergency heating bill, raising last-minute process concerns after negotiating and receiving concessions for an emergency bill. He said they’re now scrambling, because their constituents know Senate Republicans are holding up heating assistance for people who need it most.

“This morning, I woke up just as angry as I was last night,” he said in a written statement. “It is cruel to play politics while people are waiting to find out if they will be able to stay warm this winter and that is exactly what is happening.”

He added, “The idea that we need a public hearing to know that Mainers are desperate for heating assistance and energy relief is outrageous. If you don’t know that folks are on the brink of freezing to death, you are not paying attention. So I honestly don’t know where we go from here, but I’m committed to continue fighting for meaningful heating relief so folks don’t freeze to death this winter.”

At the suggestion of Republicans, Democrats had increased income limits for the proposed $450 energy relief payments, provided a more detailed accounting of how Maine would pay for the proposal and also tightened language about how the $21 million in housing relief could be used, Talbot Ross said.

Those concessions only worked in the House.

“We went to great lengths to address the concerns,” Talbot Ross said. “To end up shy of it for a reason I still don’t understand is painful.”

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this story.

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