When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Maine in March, the Legislature made the bipartisan decision to adjourn to protect the health and safety of those in our communities. Our session normally would have concluded in April, so with the time we had left, we had to set aside some of our work to prioritize what needed to get done quickly. Before we left Augusta, Republicans and Democrats came together to expand unemployment benefits, make sure students wouldn’t go hungry and prohibit utility companies from shutting off service. We also passed a supplemental budget that increased funding for public health nursing, the Maine CDC and senior care, and we put $11 million into a COVID-19 fund.

Since March, my colleagues and I have been in our communities helping folks navigate the overwhelmed unemployment system, get tested for COVID-19 and access federal benefits for their businesses. I can’t remember a time when I worked one-on-one with so many constituents to find solutions to the problems they were facing in their daily lives. It’s been humbling work and it’s reminded me of the strength of our communities. It has also deepened my commitment to building a system that works for all people, whether or not we’re facing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

Thanks to strong leadership from Gov. Janet Mills and responsible action from businesses and individuals in our communities, Maine is one of a few states that is currently seeing a low and steady number of active COVID-19 cases. After working with Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah, legislative leaders decided now was the safest time to return to Augusta for a short, focused special session that allows us to finish the job Mainers elected us to do.

It seemed like this would be an easy thing to agree upon. Over the past couple of months, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly and publicly called for a special session. But when they were given the opportunity to do so, 67 out of 70 Republican legislators didn’t participate in the official poll needed to start this process. While I’m disappointed that many of my Republican colleagues did not participate in the poll, the ongoing bipartisan committee work leaves me hopeful that we can work something out and reconvene shortly. This is our job and our duty. We have a responsibility to do the work necessary to address the problems Mainers are facing right now.

This work includes ensuring access to quality, affordable health care for everyone; supporting the small businesses and workers who have been hit hardest by this pandemic; ensuring a free and fair election this November that all voters can participate in; improving Maine’s unemployment system; and addressing problems with systemic racism in our criminal justice system. These are issues we can’t ignore.

Over the past few weeks, legislative committees have been meeting to review bills and prepare those they think are necessary for a full vote by the Legislature. This is the legislative process working as it should – elected lawmakers evaluating a bill’s necessity and appropriateness for the moment in a way that is free and open to the public. We should allow this transparent, bipartisan process to continue, rather than making political negotiations ahead of time about what issues can or cannot even be up for discussion. There are bills like LD 1943, to ensure all Mainers have access to clean drinking water and LD 1916, to increase the high school graduation rates of kids experiencing homelessness and in foster care, that should not have to wait another year just to be voted on.

It’s obvious that with the current health crisis and the still unforeseen economic consequences, our priority legislation will need to change. If the Legislature comes back, I promise to take prudent, fiscally responsible votes that recognize the reality of our new situation. As discussions continue, I’m optimistic that we will find a way to bring the Legislature together again so that we can finish the job that Maine people elected us to do.

If I can ever be of help to you or your family, please reach out to me at David.Miramant@legislature.maine.gov or (207) 287-1515.

Senator Dave Miramant represents coastal Knox County in the Maine Senate.