AUGUSTA, Maine — A series of votes Thursday by legislative leaders made clear that fighting Maine’s drug crisis will rank high on the list of priorities when lawmakers return in January.
That action came a day before a meeting on the issue including top lawmakers and officials from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage, who has said he would call out the National Guard to help enforce drug laws if legislators don’t provide money for more agents.
Nothing specific has been floated on that front, but anti-drug measures were advanced on Thursday by the Legislative Council, a 10-person panel evenly split between Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers tasked by law with only allowing consideration of “emergency” measures in even-year sessions.
They included a bill from House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, that would increase drug education in schools and another from Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, to increase methadone treatment reimbursement rates. Proposals from Republican Sens. Scott Cyrway of Benton and David Burns aim to reduce drug trafficking.
Heroin has plagued the state, with 105 people dying of drug overdoses here in 2015’s first half. On Thursday, the office of House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said legislative leaders will put out a comprehensive plan to address Maine’s drug problem before January.
Leaders will also meet with John Morris, LePage’s public safety commissioner, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney and other administration officials on Friday.
LePage has pressed the Legislature for action, saying Maine needs 10 more drug agents, plus more prosecutors and judges, to combat the flow of heroin into Maine. If the Legislature doesn’t act by Dec. 10, the governor has said he would call out the Guard.
But McCabe said “banging us over the head and coming up with artificial deadlines” isn’t the right approach, saying Thursday’s votes showed that bipartisan consensus exists on the issue.
“For this approach to work, I think we all recognize we need to work together,” he said.
Those drug bills were among 53 advanced by the Legislative Council on Thursday, during a lengthy meeting reserved mostly for lawmakers to appeal bill rejections from October, when only 32 of roughly 400 pieces of proposed legislation moved forward.
Other proposals that will be considered in January include:
— A bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would reissue Land for Maine’s Future bonds held back by LePage.
— A bill from Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, that would outlaw certain flame-retardant chemicals in new furniture.
— Bills from House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, aiming to fix laws around “revenge porn,” the nonconsensual publication of sexually explicit images.
— A bill from Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, that would remove Common Core education standards from Maine law by 2017.
— A bill from Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, that would ensure nondiscrimination against gun owners in housing that was motivated by Harvey Lembo, who shot a robber in his Rockland apartment in August and was asked by his landlord to give up the gun afterward.
— A bill from Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, that would prohibit home addresses of social workers from being published after one was allegedly killed by a disgruntled parent in Vermont earlier this year.
— A Fredette fix to a law allowing veterans to claim a pension benefit.
Earlier in the day, the Maine Senate convened to unanimously approve 25 appointments from LePage, including four District Court judge nominees: Penobscot County Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts, Jed French, a partner in a Freeport law firm and magistrate judges Maria Woodman and Paul Mathews.