The Maine House of Representatives delayed a floor session Wednesday after a lawmaker from Paris refused to follow the Legislature’s COVID-19 prevention policy requiring that masks be worn in public spaces at the State House.

Rep. John Andrews, a Libertarian Party member who left the Republican Party earlier this year, said his decision was an act of civil disobedience.

His act prompted Democratic House Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford to call a meeting of the House Ethics Committee, which questioned Andrews and unanimously voted to draft a letter of reprimand. Andrews agreed to leave the State House voluntarily but was given permission to remain on the grounds outside without a mask.

Andrews acknowledged he was in clear violation of the rules established by the Legislature’s governing body, the Legislative Council. He said the rules requiring masks in public spaces in the State House conflicted with guidance from the U.S. CDC and the administration of Gov. Janet Mills that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear facial coverings inside.

“I’m a fully vaccinated person,” Andrews said. He said he was making a stand to represent many of his constituents, who believed it was “beyond time to get back to normal.”

Andrews said he was willing to voluntarily leave the State House given the amount of work the Legislature had before it, but he also asked to be allowed to remain in outside spaces without a mask.

Andrews was among a group of seven lawmakers who were sanctioned by Fecteau in late May after they entered the State House refusing to wear a facial covering. He and the others, all Republicans, were removed from their committee assignments by Fecteau.

On Wednesday, members of the House Republican caucus said they intended to follow the rules for mask wearing as the Legislature returns to the State House for the first time since March of 2020. Fecteau said he would reinstate members to their committees if they chose to wear a facial covering in accordance with the rules.

Andrews is the only member of the group to disclose he has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Legislative Council voted 6-2 last month to continue to require masks inside legislative spaces. The masking rule has been a subject of ongoing protests by conservative lawmakers, who have repeatedly violated rules meant to guard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The House was set to start business at 10 a.m. but Fecteau recessed the 151-member chamber and called for the Ethics Committee to meet. The committee recessed around noon as the Clerk of the House worked to draft the letter of reprimand.  Committee chairman Ralph Tucker, D-Brunswick, said the recess would be for one hour.

 This story will be updated.


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