BANGOR, Maine — Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, says he plans to submit legislation that would allow Maine law enforcement officers to donate money to officers or their family members outside their own departments in the event of extreme hardship or illness.
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.
Brenda Kielty, a special assistant in the Maine Attorney General’s Office, explained that when the person in charge of the fundraising effort emailed law enforcement officers outside of the department, he or she violated state law.
“I think that is a good law because people might feel pressured to give” when approached by someone in uniform, Sheriff Glenn Ross said Wednesday evening.
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.
Cushing wants that to change. He said in a press release that he was troubled by the situation and how the Penobscot County Law Enforcement Association had to return the donations because of the fundraising violation.
“I believe this law needs to be changed to give the law enforcement community the right to take care of each other,” Cushing said. “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.”
The bill would first have to be approved by the bipartisan Legislative Council before it could go before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for a public hearing and work session.
“I fully support [Cushing’s] efforts in this,” Ross said Wednesday.
Ross said he’s in favor of the change because it allows officers to support and lend a helping hand to their peers in other departments, while still protecting regular citizens from feeling pressured to donate to law enforcement.
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.
The current law does allow for voluntary, unsolicited donations, Ross noted, but the fundraising email to people outside the department ran afoul of regulations.
BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.