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Conservative lawmakers in Maine lose posts after confrontation over masks

The Maine State House in Augusta.
The Maine State House in Augusta.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

PORTLAND, MAINE — Maine’s Democratic house speaker stripped seven conservative lawmakers of committee assignments on Monday after the group had a confrontation with Capitol Police about mask rules in the Maine State House.

Republican Representative Laurel Libby released a video of the confrontation, in which the lawmakers entered the state house without masks on. A Capitol Police officer approached the group, and members said they weren’t required to wear masks and continued on.

The lawmakers' actions came after the Legislative Council decided last week along party lines to require masks when lawmakers return to the state house, even though a statewide requirement is ending. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau said the mask rules are about demonstrating “a respect for our shared workplace" and shouldn't be a partisan issue.

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“I simply will not tolerate attempts to devolve our institution into showmanship and political theater,” Fecteau said in a public letter to the members of the Maine House of Representatives on Monday.

Libby and the other members, some of whom are prominent critics of mask rules in the state, will be replaced by Democrats on their committees, according to documents filed by Fecteau.

Maine Republican leaders said the lawmakers were unnecessarily impeded while attempting to enter the state house for legislative business.

“When it became clear that Capitol Security and nonpartisan staff lacked the legal authority and or applicable policies to prevent our entry, we proceeded into the State House to complete our work,” the seven lawmakers said in a statement.

The dust-up at the Maine State House took place as relaxed mask rules were taking effect in the rest of the state. The new rules meant residents no longer needed to wear face coverings indoors in most situations.

Maine residents, with the exception of state employees, can go maskless in most indoor settings, except for schools and day care.

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State officials are still recommending that people who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 wear a mask indoors.

Maine Governor Janet Mills, a Democrat, made the decision in mid-May to align the state rules with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is also lifting physical distancing requirements at indoor public settings where people are eating or drinking, such as bars and restaurants.

But state employees will have to wear masks in shared indoor work spaces until at least July 7, the state budget commissioner said in a Friday memo.

Businesses, meanwhile, are free to set their own rules.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 306.71 new cases a day on May 8 to 180.43 new cases a day on Saturday. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 0.86 deaths a day on May 8 to 2.57 deaths a day Saturday.

The Associated Press is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday that 822 people in the state have died of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. The state has also logged more than 67,000 total cases of the virus.

About half the state's total population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

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Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report.