Maine Republicans, Democrats squabble over special session

July 9, 2020 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat, accused Republican leaders of a “politically motivated stunt” in demanding that the Maine Legislature return to session to address a narrow agenda, including revoking the governor’s emergency powers.

Jackson said in a letter to Republican leaders that the Legislature has a mandate to wrap up unfinished business, but he offered no date when it’ll be safe to do so.

“If and when the Legislature can reconvene in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the health of the very people we serve, we will take a smart and measured approach regarding which bills become law,” Jackson wrote.

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Republicans are frustrated that the Legislature has been on the sidelines after adjourning and granting Democratic Gov. Janet Mills emergency powers to deal with the pandemic.

They told Jackson they want to return to deal with economic and health concerns related to the pandemic. They’re insisting on an agreement on the scope of work before returning to work.

Jackson, a logger from Allagash, said lawmakers will reconvene once it’s safe to do so. “In logging, I was never hired to do half the job, nor was I able to pick and choose which parts of the job I wanted to do. The same is true for the Legislature,” he wrote.

In other coronavirus-related news in Maine:

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THE NUMBERS

Another person died and more than 25 people tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported Thursday.

The new figures bring the total number of confirmed cases to over 3,480 and the total number of deaths to 111, the Maine CDC said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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JOBLESS AID

The Maine Department of Labor says it has surpassed $1 billion in benefits paid during pandemic.

More than 87,000 state and federal benefit claims were paid during the week that ended on the Fourth of July, and about 2,800 individuals made initial claims during that period, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

All told, the Maine Department of Labor paid out about $1.03 billion in federal and state assistance unemployment benefits from March 15 to July 4, compared to $73 million in all of the previous year, the department said.

“Infusing $1 billion dollars into the Maine economy has been a lifeline for both workers and communities,” said Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman.

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STUDY ABROAD LAWSUIT

A Maine-based nonprofit that facilitates study-abroad programs is being sued for a refund for programs cut short because of the pandemic.

The lawsuit in Superior Court was brought by a Harvard University student from Texas who was studying at the University of Amsterdam when the nonprofit Council on International Education Exchange suspended its programs during the spring.

The complaint, which seeks class action status, says about 4,000 students studying abroad through CIEE missed out on their full experience.

Refunds were considered only those who could not finish their classes virtually. But the whole point of the program is to have an “actual study abroad experience, not online education from their kitchen tables,” the complaint says.