AUGUSTA – House Republicans joined Gov. Paul LePage on Monday to block a bill preventing the arrest of someone who reports a drug overdose.

Earlier this month, both the House and Senate unanimously approved a bill creating a “good Samaritan” clause within Maine law allowing individuals to seek help for a drug overdose victim without fear of being arrested or prosecuted themselves for drug possession. The bill also sought to relax Maine’s prohibition on the possession of more than 10 hypodermic needles – a shift that supporters said aimed to reduce transmission of infectious diseases via dirty needles. In addition, the measure set a mid-January deadline for new state rules allowing for broader distribution of the overdose antidote drug naloxone.

The bill had strong support from the Maine Medical Association as well as numerous organizations involved in substance abuse treatment. But LePage vetoed the bill, L.D. 1326, on grounds that the changes would “erode the legal consequences” of illegal drug use.

“I am frustrated at the message this bill would send to our children by legalizing the possession of needles and providing immunity for illicit drug possession in certain circumstances,” LePage wrote. “Maine kids need to understand there is no ‘safe drug use’ anywhere, any time. They need to understand that drug addiction destroys lives. And we, as state leaders, cannot send a message of passive consent for these dangerous and potentially deadly activities.”

Monday’s 88-60 vote in the Maine House fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto. Fifty-nine Republicans and one Democrat voted to uphold LePage’s veto.

Among the nine Republicans who were hoping to override the veto was bill sponsor Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, who argued the measure would improve both public health and public safety. Speaking about the portions of the bill dealing with hypodermic needles, Vachon said drug users fearful of being caught with syringes are “less likely to keep as many as they need and are more likely to dispose of them in an unsafe manner, such as on the road or in the trash.”

During the public hearing on her bill, several people recounted stories about being arrested after calling for help for a fellow drug user who was overdosing. Others talked about friends or loved ones who they believe died of an overdose because people present at the time fled the scene rather than call for help.

“The result? People are being left alone to die,” Vachon said on the House floor. “All other New England states have ‘Good Samaritan’ laws that prevents this from happening. Passage of this bill answers the question: Make the call.”

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, the House Republican leader, echoed LePage’s statements that the bill sent the wrong message at a time when Maine is in the midst of an opioid epidemic.

“It’s a crisis and the approach that we have isn’t working,” said Fredette, R-Newport. “And I truly don’t believe that this is the right approach. There has to be some accountability. There has to be a message from the Legislature that, ‘This is not OK.’”

Monday’s vote was the second time that House Republicans blocked a bill aimed at encouraging people to report drug overdoses without fear of prosecution this session. On June 6, the House voted 91-55 to sustain LePage’s veto of a bill that would have provided individuals with an “affirmative defense” against prosecution for drug possession if the charge resulted from a call they made to get help for someone who was overdosing.

As with L.D. 1326, the other bill passed both chambers unanimously – or “under the hammer” without substantial debate or a roll call vote – but was successfully vetoed by LePage.

Also Monday, the Senate voted 26-9 to kill a bill that would have allowed for the creation of safe, medically supervised places where people could use illegal drugs. The House voted 98-47 last week to kill the bill, L.D. 1375.