April 21, 2019
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Drugs, bills, judges: What Maine legislators will, won’t tackle

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The Maine Senate convenes at the sound of a bell.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislators will return to the State House for housekeeping duties Thursday, but you’ll probably hear more about what they won’t do.

Earlier this month, Gov. Paul LePage called on legislators to approve funding to hire more judges, agents and prosecutors to fight Maine’s drug epidemic. If they don’t, the governor said he’d call out the National Guard.

No action is set on that for Thursday, but legislative leaders will finish setting the agenda for the January session and the Senate will vote on gubernatorial appointments.

On drugs, legislators may be set for a December showdown with LePage.

Drugs, particularly heroin, have plagued Maine, with 105 people dying of drug overdoses in the first half of 2015. LePage blasted legislators after the state budget passed in June cut his request of seven more Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents and four judges to four agents and two judges.

The Republican governor has been invoking the National Guard on drug issues since August, but he renewed that call two weeks ago, saying Maine needs 10 more agents, plus more prosecutors and judges. On Monday, he told WCSH that if legislators don’t act by Dec. 10, he would call on the Guard.

But Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said the chamber won’t take any action Thursday on LePage’s latest call for more law enforcement resources, and he’s trying to “get an understanding of what the governor’s plan is” and how the National Guard could help.

LePage hasn’t said how Guard troops would be used, and while they can be used by governors to help enforce laws, federal rules limit them to a supporting role.

And if legislators provided money to hire 10 new agents, it’d be a while before they start: Agents provided by the budget haven’t been hired, but two should be within a month, according to Stephen McCausland, a Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman.

Lawmakers will appeal rejections of bills for the January session.

The most substantive work Thursday will be in the Legislative Council, a committee of legislative leaders tasked by law with reserving shorter even-year sessions for “emergency” bills.

In October, it was hard to get bills through the 10-person panel, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. They allowed just 32 of roughly 400 bills.

On Thursday, many legislators will appeal their bills’ rejections, including House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, on a bill that would increase anti-drug efforts in schools and House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, on a fix to a law allowing veterans to claim a pension benefit.

Senators will vote to confirm a handful of gubernatorial appointments, including five judges.

The full Maine Senate also will come quickly into session to confirm 24 appointments, including judges and members of state boards and commissions.

Most notable are LePage’s District Court nominations: They are Penobscot County Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts, Jed French, a partner in a Freeport law firm and magistrate judges Maria Woodman and Paul Mathews.



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