Courtney Allen, organizing director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, speaks during a news conference in support of the Good Sam Law Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in front of the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lawmakers on Wednesday backed off a bill that would protect virtually anyone at the scene of an overdose from prosecution for criminal activity after Gov. Janet Mills said she’d veto the measure unless changes were made.

But recovery advocates said in a written statement Wednesday night that they had reached an agreement with the governor’s office on a new version of the bill, the details of which were not immediately clear.

Mills had also proposed a more limited expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law. But she had not commented publicly on any new compromise late Wednesday.

Enacted in 2019, the existing law protects only the 9-1-1 caller and the person who overdosed from being potentially charged with a crime. Mills’ proposal would also protect others who may not have called 9-1-1, but tried to help the victim by administering the overdose antidote naloxone, or by performing CPR.

Both chambers of the Legislature retreated earlier Wednesday from earlier votes to enact the bill favored by advocates, who argued that the governor’s more modest expansion would not go far enough to allay fears of legal trouble that may prevent people at the scene from calling 9-1-1 if a person overdoses.

Both the House and Senate would have to vote on the amended bill. The Legislature reconvenes Monday.

Advertisement

Advocates of the original version of the broader bill rallied outside the State House on Wednesday, urging lawmakers to stand their ground.

Courtney Allen, an organizing director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, which pushed for the bill, commended lawmakers for listening to advocates.

Allen at the time called Mills’ proposal as “a deadly attempt at political show.” She said it is more important to save lives than to arrest drug traffickers.

“Today I hope to send a clear message back: Gov. Mills, if the offer on the table is to take your amendment or a veto, our community has chosen a veto,” Allen said. “We are not here to play politics. We’re here to save lives.”

But she commended the governor later Wednesday in a statement announcing the new agreement.

“Since the beginning of this effort, we knew we faced an uphill battle. We chose collectively to move forward anyway because our loved ones need us to fight for them and fight with them,” Allen said. “Legislators listened, shared their own stories of loss and stood by our side as we asked Governor Mills to join us in meaningful change. And she has. Advocates across the state of Maine are celebrating the willingness of our Governor to work with us.”

Advertisement

The state recorded a record-shattering 636 fatal overdoses last year. It’s unknown how many could have been prevented if anyone had called 9-1-1, but advocates say many potentially fatal overdoses are not reported to emergency personnel because witnesses fear being arrested, resulting in missed opportunities to save lives and get people into treatment.

Bill supporters argue that expanding the Good Samaritan law will alleviate fears of legal trouble for bail violations or drug possession that stop people from calling for help. But opponents say the proposal is too broad and would shield people who don’t actually do anything to save a victim’s life.

The House voted Monday, 83-52, to support the broader expansion, while the Senate approved it by a 22-12 margin.

But Mills on Tuesday urged lawmakers to recall the bill and address her concerns.

“I do not want to veto this measure only to have the end result be that we disagreed and made no progress at all on the Good Samaritan law. I believe there is a consensus middle ground that we can all support,” Mills said, noting that her proposal received committee support.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: