By Senator Bill Diamond
Last Wednesday, Dec. 2, I had the honor of being sworn into the 130th Legislature as the State Senator representing the people of Baldwin, Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish and Windham. I am humbled by the fact that you have once again chosen me to be your voice in Augusta. It is always a great honor and responsibility to represent you, and that is truer now than ever before. Our state and our people face a challenging road ahead, but I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues from all over the state and both sides of the aisle to get us through. We especially need to find a way to balance the state budget without raising taxes on our businesses and people who are struggling to make ends meet.
The Legislature will be doing business a little differently this time around, and that started with swearing-in day. Usually, each new Legislature is sworn in at the State House by the Governor, with family and friends in attendance. This year, we were sworn in by Acting Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court Andrew M. Mead, because Gov. Janet Mills was quarantined at home after potentially being exposed to COVID-19. The ceremony took place at the Augusta Civic Center to allow for physical distancing, and in the interest of public health, friends and family stayed home. This isn’t how any of us wished it could be, but these changes were necessary, and we got the job done. It was an honor to be sworn in alongside my colleagues, and I am energized for our work ahead.
With the new Legislature officially sworn in, senators and representatives are submitting ideas for legislation that we think will make life better for Mainers. Soon, we’ll gather in our committees to discuss and debate these ideas. Perhaps the most important parts of this process are public hearings, when Mainers from all walks of life come before a committee to share their thoughts on a bill. Some bills draw dozens of pieces of testimony, and every person’s voice is critical to shaping the final piece of legislation.
Usually, if someone wants to testify about a bill, they come to Augusta and do so in person. For some this is easy, but for many this means taking the day off of work, finding childcare, and driving one, two, three or more hours one way. That just isn’t something a lot of people can do.
On Wednesday, after the Legislature was sworn in, we voted to make it possible for committees to meet virtually as we do our work over the coming months. The biggest reason for this change was so that we wouldn’t have to gather in person and risk the health of the public, our staff and each other. But this also means that the public can now join us and give testimony virtually from the safety and convenience of their own homes. This is a great step forward in making sure that all Mainers can see and participate in their government, and it’s a change I hope stays once we’re all able to gather in person again. I’m sure we’ll face some rough patches along the way, and we must also remember that for many Mainers internet access at home isn’t a reality.
I’m optimistic that this Legislature will be the most transparent and accessible one that Maine has ever seen. Hardship and adversity often drive innovation, which is a rare silver lining of this difficult time. But I’m confident that if we work together, we can get this done.
As I return to Augusta – even virtually – please know that I am always available as a resource to you. You can call my office at 287-1515 or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org