Opinion

Working together in the age of COVID-19

In the wake of COVID-19, the Maine Legislature was forced to rapidly switch gears to keep Maine people safe and healthy. Hundreds of lawmakers, staff and members of the public go to the Statehouse on any given day to participate in the lawmaking process.

It simply would have been irresponsible to remain in session and risk spreading the deadly virus from one community to another, especially as our seniors, veterans and loved ones were battling for their lives across the state.

At the same time, Mainers needed our help. Since the Legislature adjourned mid-March, I’ve spent every single day on the phone with folks in the district working to resolve issues with unemployment claims, advocate for small businesses and connect hardworking families with food pantries, health insurance and rental relief. The stories I’ve heard from people have been but throughout all the pain, there has been some light.

When a woman from New Sweden lost her husband during the height of the pandemic, she found herself unable to make proper burial arrangements. The funeral director called me and we were able to find a way to honor this man’s life and give his wife closure. 

When I heard from a high school student who wasn’t going to get a cap and gown due to an outstanding lunch bill, we worked with the school district to make things right. She worked hard, earned the grades and deserved that cap and gown.

To me, the most important part of my job as your state senator is to listen to your stories, do what I can to make things right and most importantly to fight for what you deserve.

Over the past month, key Legislative committees held meetings so elected officials, members of the administration and experts could survey the challenges, ask questions, get answers and solve problems during this pandemic. The budget committee has heard from small businesses, nonprofits and health care providers to determine how to spend federal funds. The Labor and Housing Committee has pushed the Department of Labor to resume public briefings, hire more staff and get people the benefits they’re owed. The Education Committee has discussed how to reopen classrooms safely while making sure local educators and school districts have a chance to weigh in.

Next, lawmakers will begin to hold committee meetings to tie up loose ends and prepare all legislation for votes in the House and Senate when the Legislature is able to reconvene in a manner that doesn’t threaten public health. While by no means is this crisis over, we have worked out a system that allows for committee work to take place in a way that doesn’t jeopardize the health and safety of Maine people or the reopening of businesses and communities.

Committees will meet in the Senate Chamber, the House Chamber and the Appropriations room to comply with the rules and regulations of the Legislature and CDC guidelines amid the pandemic. Both public engagement and participation are vital to the legislative process. I’ve worked hard to make sure members of the press and the public can watch the committee meetings live.

COVID-19 may have disrupted our work but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to finish what we started, delivering for Maine families, small businesses and seniors. From the moment the Legislature unanimously adjourned mid-March, I’ve been anxious to reconvene the Legislature to deal with remaining bills still in the legislative process. 

As we move through the committee process, monitor the COVID-19 cases and look to reconvene, please don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions and concerns at 207-287-1515 or Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

The COVID-19 pandemic is like nothing our state and even our country has seen before, or at least in the last century. But the way we respond to a crisis isn’t new. As Mainers, when challenges arise and the obstacles seem insurmountable, we don’t back down and we certainly don’t give up. We roll up our sleeves, get folks around a table and work together to forge a path ahead. 

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president. He can be reached at either 207-287-1500 (office) or 207-436-0763 (cell), or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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