For the second time in three weeks, minority Republicans in the Maine Legislature rejected a call for a special session.

Democratic leaders polled lawmakers Wednesday about returning for a special session at the Augusta Civic Center so they can finish work on some 400 bills left in limbo when the legislative session adjourned abruptly in March.

“Once again, a majority of my Republican colleagues failed to match months of rhetoric with meaningful action,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “To be honest, I’m absolutely floored. At a time when so many Mainers are struggling, it’s unacceptable that elected officials would refuse the opportunity to provide some relief. In almost any other job, refusing to show up over and over again would be a fireable offense.”

But Republicans are again saying they will not return without an agreement on the scope and the length of the session. Republicans also cited a new extension to Maine’s civil state of emergency, ordered by Gov. Janet Mills earlier in the day.

“We have an obligation to act accordingly and in the same way that Maine citizens have been forced to comply with restrictions,” said House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford. “We can’t pretend there isn’t an emergency in order to pass spending and bills that are unrelated to the crisis we are in.”

Republicans also rejected an effort to return last month.

Democrats hold commanding majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, but for lawmakers to return, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Jackson need a majority of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses to agree.

Republicans have previously said they only want to return to deal with pandemic-related issues and to take a vote on limiting the executive powers of Mills, a Democrat, who has largely governed by executive order since the Legislature adjourned.

Gideon, who is running against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in November, has a political incentive to bring the Legislature back. She has been repeatedly criticized by Collins’ campaign and outside groups for not convening the Legislature, so Republican foot-dragging could feed the narrative that she has failed to exercise leadership.

Daily tweets from Collins’ Maine-based campaign staff have featured a running count of the number of days since the Legislature adjourned.

On Tuesday, the campaign’s Team Collins account tweeted, “It’s now been 140 days since Sara Gideon shelved her speaker’s gavel and hit the campaign trail full time. She had time for more than 40 campaign events, but was a no-show at work while Mainers waited for leadership.”

Gideon, however, has been urging her colleagues to return to work.

“A vote to reconvene provides an opportunity to have a real discussion about the hardship Maine families and small businesses are experiencing and how the Maine Legislature can provide targeted relief in a way that bolsters our economy,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “Many of us have been vocal about the critical need to address the allocation of CARES Act funding, school readiness and the impact the pandemic is having on our small businesses. Now is the time to act on those priorities.”

Earlier Wednesday, John Bott, a spokesman for House Republicans, said Republicans were discouraged that no talks took place before the new poll was announced. “There has been no attempt to communicate with Republican leadership on this at any level,” Bott said.

Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, also said that neither Jackson nor Gideon had attempted to negotiate on the scope of a special session. In a statement Wednesday, Dow also said Mills had not been contacted by Jackson, although her office did not immediately confirm that.

“Without having had any discussion with Sen. Jackson, or any attempt by him to work with anyone else on the issues at hand, the outcome of today’s poll will be the same as the poll question circulated two weeks ago,” Dow said before the outcome was announced.

Lindsay Crete, Mills’ press secretary, said the governor’s office was in “regular” communication with the Legislature’s presiding officers and that Dow did not speak for the administration.

“It is appropriate for the Legislature to determine its path forward, given that it is a separate and coequal branch of government,” Crete said. “While they do that, the administration will continue to engage with the committees and leaders and continue to seek their input on the distribution of CARES Act funding.”

Jackson’s office also disputed that Dow had not been contacted, and shared emails sent to Dow Tuesday containing a detailed list of bills and committee votes. Jackson’s staff also said he spoke at length by telephone with Dow on Tuesday.

The Legislature left much of its work unfinished when Mills declared a civil state of emergency and announced restrictions on large gatherings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Legislative committees have approved 162 bills in recent weeks, 74 percent of them receiving support from Republicans, Democrats and independents – 48 percent of the bills received unanimous committee support, Jackson and Gideon said.

A release from Jackson’s office late Wednesday showed that two Republicans and all 109 of the Legislature’s Democrats voted in favor of returning to a special session while four Republicans voted against it and 64 more did not respond to the poll.

In July, only three Republicans recorded their votes in a poll about having a special session this month. All Democratic, independent and tribal members voted to reconvene at the Augusta Civic Center, which would provide the space needed for physical distancing as lawmakers debate and vote on bills.

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