AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill sponsored by an Aroostook County legislator seeking to allow administrators of children’s homes or residential care facilities to search the backpacks or travel bags of the residents was passed into law this week.
After it was originally vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, LD 470, a bill sponsored by Rep. Dustin White, R-Washburn, was approved by the House with 132 in favor, 8 opposed and 11 members absent.
In the Senate on June 23, the veto was successfully overridden with 34 in favor and no members opposed.
White, who works in a residential care facility in The County, said when he proposed the bill in April that under Maine law, officials were not allowed to search the bags of the residents when they returned to the facility after going to school, visiting doctors or participating in outside activities.
But he said that some administrators already were searching the bags of their young charges, not realizing that it was illegal.
The new law allows staffers of a children’s home or children’s residential care facility to search a resident’s backpack or travel bag, if there are reasonable grounds to suspect it contains misappropriated articles or items that would endanger the health or safety of the resident or other residents. The search cannot be excessively intrusive, but such items may be confiscated.
White said that while one concern was that residents might bring in guns or knives, the threat of weapons was not his major reason for proposing the bill. White said that a significant concern for him is those youngsters who exhibit self-harming behaviors such as cutting themselves with razors or abusing substances. He hoped to curb their efforts to sneak such items and substances into the facility.
Although the law would allow staff to check residents’ bags, they could not personally search the children.
White said he worked with representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine on his bill, and that the language used to draft it came from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.