The new Maine Legislature is sworn in Dec. 7 in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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The frustration in Augusta after a heating aid package stalled earlier this month was evident. The need to provide more help to Maine people across the state dealing with high heating costs is evident, too. So it is a very good thing that legislative leaders have worked through that frustration to schedule a hearing Wednesday to further discuss — and hopefully act — on this much-needed relief.

Senate President Troy Jackson told us last Wednesday that he and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross were working with others to explore options for holding a public hearing, which has been complicated at this early stage in the new legislative session. On Friday, legislative leaders from both parties provided statements in a press release announcing temporary appointments to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which will convene at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“Right now, what matters most is getting Maine people the heating assistance and energy relief they desperately need as soon as possible. Rather than thrust this issue onto a brand new committee, Speaker Talbot Ross and I have appointed a temporary Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee in order to hold an efficient public hearing next week and hopefully set this bipartisan proposal up for future success,” Jackson, a Democrat, said in the Friday press release. “As I said on swearing-in day, Maine people are counting on us to rise to the occasion and deliver a compromise energy relief package that treats this heating crisis like the emergency it is. We cannot let them down.”

The nearly $475 million proposed heating aid package from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills stalled in the Senate on Dec. 7 after the new Legislature was sworn in earlier that day. Mills’ office and Democrats in the Legislature had negotiated with Republicans, and most House Republicans supported the proposal after securing higher income limits so that direct heating assistance checks would go to more people. Senate Republicans cited transparency and their desire for a public hearing among reasons for opposing the package earlier this month.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat, we are all Maine people first and foremost and today’s agreement continues the storied tradition of Maine bipartisanship and protects the institution of the Legislature,” Senate Republican leader Trey Stewart said in his Friday statement. “I thank both President Jackson and Speaker Talbot Ross for their willingness to ensure that transparency and the feedback of the people we represent are prioritized as we work to provide relief to Maine people before the holidays.”

The package from Mills, and an amended proposal offered by a bipartisan duo of senators, would both include an additional $40 million for the existing Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) that helps people with their heating bills and $21 million for emergency housing assistance.

“Maine people need help now with heating costs. Temperatures are dropping and the bills are only increasing. And countless others are dealing with the very real possibility of eviction with the end of a vital rental assistance program. It was unacceptable to me to leave these Maine families in crisis at quite possibly the worst time of the year,” Talbot Ross, a Democrat, said in the Friday release. “All members of legislative leadership are in complete agreement that we continue to do everything in our power to advance legislation that will provide direct relief as quickly as possible. We’ve made temporary appointments to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, scheduled a public hearing and urge our colleagues to join us in passing this critical legislation.”

An overwhelming majority of House Republicans already supported the heating aid package, putting the needs of Maine people ahead of some legitimate process concerns.

“We were all sent to Augusta to work for our constituents, not to work against the other party. That is why I am pleased to join with the leaders of the three other caucuses to hold a public hearing on the Governor’s Energy Relief bill,” Republican House leader Billy Bob Faulkingham said in the same press release. “I’m confident that after thorough public review and input, the legislature will be able to move swiftly to deliver relief for the people of Maine.”

The messages in each of these four leaders’ statements are all encouraging, particularly because they were delivered together. They are right: elected officials cannot let the Maine people down; they must extend Maine’s tradition of bipartisanship; they must do everything in their power to provide direct relief as quickly as possible; and they must work for their constituents, not against each other.

The fact that leaders worked through initial frustration and are holding this hearing is a positive step forward, and one that the Legislature should continue to build on this week. This is what Maine people want and deserve from their elected representatives — working together and trading ideas to get things done. It is more productive than trading blame.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...