AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed a bill that would have offered an “affirmative defense” against prosecution to a person caught with illegal drugs after seeking help for an overdose victim.

Adding to his already record-setting number of vetoes, LePage is also seeking to block bills to overhaul Maine’s environmental regulation of metallic mines and to force his hand to sell senior housing bonds.

In what is likely to be a controversial move, LePage is blocking a bill that sought to address the problem of drug users – and especially heroin or other opiate users – abandoning someone who is overdosing because they fear being arrested by police for their own illegal activity.

As with all vetoes, it will take a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override LePage.

The bill, L.D. 1079, would not have provided immunity from prosecution but would have provided individuals with an “affirmative defense” if police find drugs or paraphernalia on them after they have overdosed or call for emergency assistance for another overdose victim.

More than 30 other states have some version of “good Samaritan” laws offering legal protections for people who seek help for drug overdose victims.

But in his veto letter, LePage wrote that “a good way to get drug users off drugs is for them to get into the criminal justice system.”

“This bill and those like it that propose immunity for drug users make me wonder, ‘What’s next?’ ” LePage wrote. “Would these people actually let their friends die in order to avoid a misdemeanor offense that probably would go unprosecuted anyway? I believe the answer to this question would be, ‘no.’ ”

Public testimony on this topic directly contradicts the governor’s conclusions, however. Individuals recounted how they were arrested after calling for help or recalled friends who they believe died of an overdose because people in their group fled.

Portland resident Shaun Le, for instance, told how a friend was abandoned during an overdose and was later declared brain-dead because he was deprived of oxygen until paramedics arrived.

“I believe that in that situation if the bill went through and these things were in place, that person would have stayed with him,” Le said while testifying on a larger bill with an even more sweeping “amnesty” provision for people who report overdoses. “They would have given him CPR and, if that oxygen had been given to him, he’d still be here today.”

The House is likely to take up the veto in the coming days.

Bald Mountain, with Greenlaw Pond in the foreground, is the site of mineral deposits that Irving, which owns the property, would like to mine. Courtesy photo


LePage also vetoed a bipartisan bill that dramatically rewrites Maine’s mining regulations.

L.D. 820 would ban most open-pit mines, prohibit mining under waterways or public lands, and require companies to set aside money to cover any environmental problems. It would give Maine among the most stringent mining regulations in the country, and the final compromise was supported by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. While major environmental groups supported the bill, some lawmakers and activists said it did not go far enough and still allowed mining pollution.

The bill is aimed at ending a yearslong stalemate over mining begun with J.D. Irving Ltd.’s interest in mining under Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

In his veto letter, LePage suggested the bill contained “unnecessary prohibitions based on fear, not science” that would prevent job creation in Maine.

“This bill will deter any company from mining in Maine, and it will discourage exploration of our mineral deposits because this bill would make them undevelopable,” LePage wrote.

“As a state we should encourage innovation and welcome businesses that will employ our citizens and contribute to our gross domestic product. This bill takes away the opportunity for innovative companies to select safe and cost-effective methods to mine, and it perpetuates the hypocritical, not-in-my-backyard attitude that keeps Maine at a competitive disadvantage.”

Mining opponents have argued that the pollution potential from large-scale mines would jeopardize the healthy environmental conditions that are central to the major drivers of Maine’s economy.

The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 34-1 and the House by a vote of 126-14.


LePage also vetoed a bill that sought to force him to sell bonds for senior housing projects.

In 2015, nearly 70 percent of voters supported the $15 million bond measure for senior citizen housing projects. But LePage has refused to sell the bonds, saying he is protecting the state’s credit rating. But he has also suggested in the past that the bond package is written in such a way as to benefit a few wealthy developers.

The bill, L.D. 832, would essentially bypass the governor, allowing the state treasurer to issue the bonds without LePage’s authorization.

LePage’s three-page veto letter does not focus on the issue of senior housing at all but, instead, accuses lawmakers of constitutional overreach.

“Clearly, this bill does not withstand constitutional scrutiny and cannot succeed in stripping the executive of this authority,” reads the letter. “However, if allowed to go into law, this bill will certainly succeed in creating legal and market uncertainty for past and future bonds. This is nothing more than an unconstitutional power grab by one branch of government to use as a political bludgeon against another branch.”

Lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried before to force LePage’s hand on bonds, and this bill was approved by the House by a margin that is just shy of the two-thirds needed to override his veto.

The governor’s veto letters on the three bills were dated Friday but were not delivered to the Legislature until Monday afternoon.


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