BANGOR, Maine — Proposed legislation that aims to allow Maine law enforcement officers to donate money in support of their own received a unanimous ought-to-pass vote this week from members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
Sponsored by Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, LD 1900 — An Act to Support Members of the Law Enforcement Community as a Result of Medical Need or Unusual Hardship — was the subject of a public hearing and a workshop Wednesday during which the bill was amended.
Cushing said Thursday that after some discussion, committee members decided to limit the bill’s scope to fundraising for medical hardships to facilitate the bill’s passage. In addition, the definition of “general public” was amended to include officers from other agencies.
If enacted, the proposed legislation would allow law enforcement officers to donate to fundraising efforts for fellow officers or their family members facing medical problems — including those outside their own departments.
As it stands, law enforcement can raise funds for an officer or an immediate family member who is suffering from a catastrophic illness as long as certain conditions, established beforehand by the Maine attorney general’s office, are met. They also may solicit the general public for charitable causes.
Cushing said he decided to submit legislation to that end after after learning of a problem that Penobscot County law enforcement officials encountered recently.
The Penobscot County Law Enforcement Association, a lodge — or union local — of the Fraternal Order of Police, had to return all donations it collected recently from other law enforcement officers during a fundraising effort to benefit the cancer-stricken wife of a Penobscot County sheriff’s deputy.
Word of the fundraiser spread by email, reaching departments outside the Penobscot County Law Enforcement Association, and donations flowed in from many of those departments.
Cushing said the matter came to the attention of the Maine attorney general’s office after the law enforcement association self-reported it.
Brenda Kielty, a special assistant in the attorney general’s office, said last week that when the person in charge of the fundraising effort emailed law enforcement officers outside of the department, he or she violated state law.
“Nobody liked that finding,” Cushing said, adding that Attorney General William Schneider issued the ruling “reluctantly.”
Cushing said that he met with Schneider last Friday and that by Monday Schneider had come up with a legislative solution.
He said the bill, which was submitted with an emergency preamble, could go before the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate as early as Friday or early next week.
Among those who testified during a brief public hearing that preceded the committee’s 10-0 ought-to-pass vote was Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris, who spoke in support of the bill, Cushing said.
Maine’s police solicitations law prohibits a law enforcement agency, association or officer from soliciting from the general public — which includes people outside the department and their families — if the money raised benefits the agency, association or an officer.
“I believe this law needs to be changed to give the law enforcement community the right to take care of each other,” Cushing said last week in an interview shortly after he introduced the bill.
“My bill would not allow them to solicit money for police dogs or flak jackets and things like that, but only for cases of extreme personal hardship and serious medical problems.”
Co-sponsors of Cushing’s bill are House Speaker Robert Nutting; Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor; Sen. Deborah Plowman, R-Hampden; Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco; Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Livermore Falls; Rep. David Burns R-Whiting; Rep. Rep. Michael Clarke, D-Bath; Rep Philip Curtis, R-Madison; and Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this report.