March 19, 2019
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LePage’s latest vetoes hurt Maine people. Lawmakers should override them.

Payge Woodard | BDN
Payge Woodard | BDN
Rosemary Monahan shows her support for access to anti-overdose medication during a protest in Presque Isle.

Gov. Paul LePage prides himself on being the king of gubernatorial vetoes. He even named one of his dogs Veto. Sometimes, the governor is right to reject ill-conceived legislation that was somehow approved by lawmakers or to reject bills after he has spotted unintended consequences.

More often LePage wields his veto pen out of quest for power or in the name of making government more efficient.

But, four vetoes issued Wednesday were especially cruel, even by LePage standards. They should be overridden by lawmakers when they return to Augusta on Wednesday.

It is no surprise that LePage vetoed LD 1892, which would allow pharmacists to dispense the overdose-reversing drug naloxone without a prescription. The bill should not have been necessary.

Last year, 418 Mainers died from drug overdoses. Yet, Maine is one of just a handful of states that do not allow the distribution of naloxone without a prescription.

Hoping to reduce the opioid death toll, lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 to make naloxone available without a prescription. It was vetoed by LePage, but his veto was overridden. Because of an error in the way the bill was written, the issue came before lawmakers again last year. They passed a bill to fix the problem, which became law without the governor’s signature.

It was then up to the Maine Board of Pharmacy to write rules to implement the law. The board unanimously approved draft rules in August. They then sat on LePage’s desk for more than five months. There was disagreement over whether the governor’s signature was even needed.

In February, LePage demanded that the draft rules be changed to require that naloxone only be distributed to those who are 21 and older. The pharmacy board made the change to raise the age in the draft rule from 18 to 21.

But, the policy has yet to go into effect. So, the Legislature acted again, passing LD 1892 by wide margins.

In his veto letter, LePage writes about undermining the Board of Pharmacy and repeats his misstatements about naloxone not helping those struggling with opioid addiction. He doesn’t offer any ideas for better treating the thousands of Mainers who want to end their addiction.

Likewise, the governor’s veto letter for LD 1874, a bill to ensure an effective child protection program is not ended, is all about government contracts and performance expectations. It never mentions children or families.

LD 1874, which also passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, would restore funding for the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program. In the Portland area, where the program began, child abuse cases have dropped in the areas where the program is active. The program had been expanded to Bangor, Lewiston, Rockland and other cities and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services recently contracted with organizations in western, central and midcoast Maine to set up the program in additional neighborhoods with high rates of child abuse reports.

Yet, DHHS planned to end the program’s funding, saying it was duplicative, although no other program targets and works closely with families in high-risk neighborhoods. The cancellation came just days after 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy died in Stockton Springs, allegedly after being abused by her mother and stepfather.

On Wednesday, LePage also vetoed LD 1866, which would require additional training in mental health for middle school and high school personnel with the aim of preventing youth suicides. In his lengthy veto letter, LePage notes that despite similar legislation in the past, only a quarter of Maine school districts have adopted protocols for suicide prevention training. The governor notes that it shouldn’t take more laws to “get our schools to do the right thing.”

He’s right, but with so many schools not doing “the right thing” and too many Maine youths ending their lives, more clearly needs to be done. LD 1866 itself won’t end the problem, but it reinforces the state’s commitment to reducing youth suicides.

LePage returned to bureaucratic arguments in his veto of LD 1771, which directs DHHS to solicit proposals to provide housing-based treatment for mothers with substance abuse disorder and their children. LePage argues that DHHS can already do this. But, it hasn’t. Again, lawmakers have stepped in where the LePage administration has failed to help Maine families.

The bills LePage vetoed Wednesday are each about helping Maine people, especially children, who are touched by difficult problems: drug addiction, suicide and child abuse. The governor’s arguments that these bills are unnecessary are negated by the needless personal and family struggles and preventable deaths that occur each year.

Lawmakers were right to pass these bills and they should override the vetoes.

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