AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill meant to encourage calling emergency workers for drug overdose victims died Tuesday when the House of Representatives upheld Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the measure.
In its original form, LD 1079 proposed exempting such a person from arrest or prosecution, but it was softened during the committee process to provide an affirmative defense during court proceedings, after an arrest and the filing of charges. An affirmative defense is a set of facts other than those alleged by a plaintiff or prosecutor that a defendant can argue as a mitigating factor.
LePage argued in his veto letter that putting drug users in contact with the criminal justice system could help them by qualifying them for programs such as drug court or medical treatment.
“This bill and those like it that propose immunity for drug users make me wonder, ‘What’s next?’” LePage wrote. “Would these people actually let their friends die in order to avoid a misdemeanor offense that probably would go unprosecuted anyway? I believe the answer to this question would be no.”
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who is an attorney, said the bill would set free defendants who in many cases should face criminal consequences.
“There would be a lot of attorneys looking to this affirmative defense as a way out for their clients,” Fredette said. “That is what attorneys get paid to do. … You’ll be seeing people go free who otherwise would be convicted of serious crimes.”
Rep. Barbara Cardone, D-Bangor, urged her House colleagues to trust the courts.
“This is not a bill that grants immunity. It’s not a bill that excludes evidence. It’s not a bill that deters arrest,” Cardone said during House debate. “The amendment that was passed by the committee is language that provides an affirmative defense if someone has called an emergency provider if they or someone they are with is suffering a drug overdose.”
The House voted 91-55 in favor of overriding LePage’s veto, which was short of the required two-thirds threshold for overriding a veto. The bill originally passed through the Legislature with unanimous support.