FREE e-scribe now!

This week’s edition!

Swearing-in day — a sign of things to come

Guest Column

By Sen. Ned Claxton

AUBURN – On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the 130th Maine Legislature was sworn into office.

Swearing-in day, which falls on the first Wednesday of December every two years, has become a memorable tradition for legislators, their families and friends.

Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin), Maine District 20, Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester, and Poland (Photo courtesy of Sen. Claxton)

In a normal time, this day would be a celebration, with legislators gathering in their respective House or Senate Chamber in the State House accompanied by loved ones. But I don’t need to tell you that this year is anything but normal, and Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony reflected that.

The biggest difference was where the ceremony took place. Because the Legislature has so many members — 186 of us between the House and Senate — the Augusta Civic Center was used in order for us to maintain social distancing.

I, along with 31 of my Senate colleagues who were in attendance that day, took one room in the civic center, and the House of Representatives used the main auditorium. Every legislator was seated at least six feet apart from one another, and we wore masks for the duration of our session. Once we were sworn in and voted on some administrative measures in the morning, the Senate moved down the hall to the main arena for a joint convention with the House. We then voted on the positions of Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer and State Auditor, and our day was complete.

Although Wednesday was unique in that it only happens once every two years, it was also a sign of things to come. In order to keep folks safe, in-person attendance at the Civic Center was limited to legislators, staff and the press. This was an unfortunate but necessary requirement. Despite this, the entirety of the day’s proceedings were streamed live online on the Legislature’s website at www.legislature.maine.gov. Even Gov.

Janet Mills, who was forced to quarantine after coming into contact with a member of her security team who tested positive for COVID-19, joined us virtually, pre-recording a welcome message to the new Legislature. Virtual legislative meetings will continue for the foreseeable future, with the State House and committee rooms remaining closed to the general public.

While conducting our business this way is an unfortunate necessity, it has raised questions for me about how we make sure the public still has access to our work.

Making sure the Legislature is accessible to the general public is absolutely critical, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. Folks not only have the right to watch government in action and participate in it; the public’s participation also helps form policy and holds elected officials accountable. Thankfully, staff have been working since the pandemic first began to make sure the general public can still be a part of the process.

When our legislative session officially kicks off in the new year, members of the public will be able to listen to all committee meetings and watch sessions live as they happen, as well as being able to testify in committee, both live on video and by submitting written testimony. There’s no doubt we’ll have challenges when conducting business, but we won’t let it affect access or the quality of work we do. Every step of the way, I’ll do what I can to make sure that everyone who wants to participate in government has the opportunity to do so.

As a reminder, you can always contact me if you have a question, concern or just want to make your voice heard. You can send me an email at Ned.Claxton@legislature.maine.gov or call my office at 287-1515.

Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin) represents Maine Senate District 20, which includes Auburn, Mechanic Falls, Minot, New Gloucester, and Poland.

Leave a Reply


Contact Us!

9 North River Road, #232
Auburn, ME 04210
(207) 795-5017
info@twincitytimes.com