AUGUSTA — A panel of legislative leaders voted Thursday to revive several bills designed to address the state’s drug epidemic.

The proposals hit a range of policy areas, including providing additional treatment services for addicts, increasing drug education in public schools, increasing fines for interstate drug trafficking convictions, increasing state reimbursement rates to treatment centers and a pilot program designed to divert those arrested for drug possession into treatment programs.

The proposals were originally rejected when the Legislative Council first reviewed them in October, but will now advance to the legislative session that begins in January. The drug bills were among 147 rejected in October that were the focus of appeals by their sponsors on Thursday. The 10-member council, evenly divided between Republican and Democratic leadership, approved 49 appeals, bringing the total number of new legislation that will be vetted next session to more than 80 bills. Lawmakers submitted 400 proposals in October.

The bill tally could grow before January. After-deadline bills can still be considered and several appealed proposals were tabled Thursday and may still move forward. Additionally, Gov. Paul LePage can submit legislation at any time during the session.

Thus far, legislative leaders have shown little appetite for deeply partisan legislation.

A Republican-led bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood fell when the five Democrats on the council opposed it, resulting in a tie with Republican leadership. A majority vote of the council is required to approve bills for the next session.

Two Republicans joined Democrats to advance a proposal by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would reauthorize and issue more than $11 million in voter-approved bonds for the Land for Maine’s Future Program. The bonds have become entangled in LePage’s pitched battle with the Legislature. LePage has twice used the LMF bonds as leverage for unrelated policy initiatives, riling lawmakers and conservation advocates. Katz’s attempt to free the bonds failed in July, but lawmakers and a coalition of LMF supporters are rallying for a second push next year that could have electoral consequences for legislators who side with the governor.

Full details of the bills are not yet public. However, the proposals that survived appeal Thursday were accompanied by descriptions of the legislation and, in some instances, the motivation for submission. For example, Sen. David Woodsome, R-Waterboro, cited the shuttering of drug treatment facilities in Westbrook and Sanford as the impetus for his bill to return MaineCare reimbursement rates to Methadone providers to 2010 levels.

“Methadone treatment is the most studied and cost effective form of treatment,” Woodsome wrote in his appeal to the council. “Every month we delay action means more emergency room visits, crimes, children being placed in protective services, overdoses, incarcerations and death.”

Woodsome’s proposal advances, but others weren’t so fortunate.

Bills to use surplus revenues from the state’s liquor contract to increase local education funding and provide heating assistance were defeated. The same fate awaited a bill designed to provide oversight of the Maine Information and Analysis Center, a so-called fusion center playing a key intelligence gathering role in the LePage administration’s effort to disrupt the drug trade.

The council tabled a proposal by Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram, designed to expedite natural gas expansion in Maine by setting deadlines to approve projects.

The council approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Martin Grohman, D-Biddeford, designed to increase low-income families’ access to heat pumps.

Marine resources proposals also advanced. Proposals to give the Department of Marine Resources commissioner greater flexibility to open and close the elver season were approved, as was a bill by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, to require marine worm diggers to obtain a license from muncipalities.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, saw two bills designed to address child and student hunger advance, while Falmouth Democratic Sen. Cathy Breen’s bill to allow the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf to engage in private fundraising also advanced.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, praised the anti-addiction proposals from Republicans and Democrats, saying the legislation could lead to a comprehensive strategy to fight the opiate abuse epidemic.

“The five bills passed today are an important first step in a comprehensive plan to fight the pervasive and debilitating drug crisis in Maine,” Eves said in a statement. “Too often families and their loved ones struggling to fight addiction have nowhere to turn for help. I am committed to working with my colleagues, in partnership with law enforcement, health care providers and others helping families on the front lines, to develop a comprehensive solution.”

Republican House leaders Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, also touted the advance of the drug proposals, as well as bills designed to address Maine energy costs.

“Addressing Maine’s increasing drug problem as well as the rising cost of energy in our state are at the top of House Republican’s priority list as we head into the upcoming session,” Fredette and Espling said in a joint statement.

The Legislative Council last month allowed proposals to improve ferry safety, delay implementation of new educational assessment tests in public schools, and give preference to Maine vendors and American-made products when issuing state funding.

Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler

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