(The Center Square) – Gov. Janet Mills' near-autocratic emergency powers are coming under increasing scrutiny, even as her administration begins to wind down pandemic restrictions.
Republican lawmakers have stepped up pressure on the governor to relinquish their authority, but the proposals have been rejected by the Democratic controlled Legislature.
This week, the Committee on State and Local Government rejected more than a dozen GOP proposals to repeal or curtail the governor's emergency powers. All of the votes went along party lines, with the panel's Democratic majority opposing the measures.
Republicans ripped Democrats for their "willingness to cede legislative authority" to the governor.
"It is unfathomable that Democrats on the committee think that the Legislature has no role to play when Maine people need them most," House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said. "Over the past year, our members have heard more from the public on amending the emergency powers law than any other single issue."
Rep. Randall Greenwood, R-Wales, says the Legislature has been locked out of decision making with the governor's nearly unchecked powers.
"This pandemic has highlighted a serious flaw in the law governing emergency powers," he said. "The legislative branch has effectively been shutout for over a year."
Under her emergency declaration, Mills has wielded sweeping powers to direct the state government's response to the pandemic. In the past year, she has issued dozens of orders – from those closing schools, day care centers and other businesses to a stay-at-home advisory and limits on public gatherings – to prevent the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, Mills announced that the state is lifting an outdoor mask mandate, travel and business restrictions as well as other COVID-19 preventive measures.
Mills cited the state's improving public health metrics and rising numbers of vaccinated people in the state – one of the highest percentages in the nation.
“We are updating Maine’s public health guidance to reflect the CDC’s latest recommendations that indicate the risk of transmitting COVID-19 while outdoors is low, especially as more people get vaccinated," she said in a statement.
But the governor didn't issue any orders repealing her emergency powers, which have been renewed 14 times since she signed the first executive order last year.
During a previous briefing on the state's COVID-19 response, Mills defended the emergency powers as necessary with the state still grappling with the ongoing impact of the pandemic.
"We are in a race between vaccinations and variants," Mills said. "With nearly half of all eligible Maine people having received at least one dose of a vaccine, we are making progress, but we have got to keep our foot on the gas to get more people vaccinated, to keep people alive and healthy, and to get us back to normal sooner."