Lisa Keim wants the commission to look at all elements of Maine's COVID response, including executive orders and health and education outcomes.
In this June 30, 2021, file photo, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, is pictured in the Senate chamber. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

Two years ago, Maine Republicans put forward a measure to assemble a legislative commission to study the state’s COVID response. They are trying again this year with a different tone hanging over a still-charged debate.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, who championed the 2021 measure, is back with a similar proposal. It has a broad focus, directing 13 lawmakers who would be appointed to look at elements of the COVID response, including contracts, executive orders and policy outcomes from health to education.

The context: There is no exact analog for these kinds of reviews. Congress bogged down last year over an effort to put together a commission modeled on the one that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. States have probed different parts of the pandemic response, including in Virginia, where lawmakers studied negative effects on K-12 education.

A public hearing on Keim’s measure comes Monday on the heels of the Democratic-led Legislature rejecting several Republican bills aimed at watering down vaccine mandates, including at colleges and universities and by repealing a 2019 law that got rid of non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements. 

“Maine people should not be forced to trust Big Pharma or the government with health care decisions,” Keim said in a floor speech.

What’s changed: Keim’s focus on the vaccine measure could color the work that she would want the new commission to focus on. In the 2021 debate on her similar measure, Republicans were deeply focused on Mills’ use of executive orders to manage the core parts of the COVID response, something that both parties gave her authority to do but Republicans regretted a few months in.

That bill two years ago was opposed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which argued against studying the COVID response when it was still a fluid situation. The Senate still passed a version of the measure unanimously before it failed by a seven-vote margin in the House. That one was sponsored by all Republicans, while Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, is on it now.

Next up: The Mills administration’s stance on it will be important, though the recent moves by the World Health Organization to downgrade the COVID pandemic’s status and the federal government to stop reporting new infections may give the effort to review the response more weight.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...