Legislature slates hearing on LePage mental health facility, but it could be moot

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature will hit the ground running with a big hearing next week. But the issue they’re examining may be moot in a big way.

I’m talking about the struggle between Gov. Paul LePage’s administration and most of the Maine Legislature over a new, 22-bed mental health facility to house forensic patients, or those deemed not guilty of criminal acts or unfit for trial. The administration has identified funding for the building, which will cost between $3 million and $5 million.

Everyone agrees that a new facility is needed to regain federal certification at Riverview Psychiatric Center, but it’s now the subject of a political struggle at the State House.

The governor originally wanted to put the new facility next to Riverview in Augusta, but the plan was blocked twice by Democratic legislative leaders who wanted more information about it. LePage now says he’s putting it on state-owned land in Bangor.

On Thursday, the Legislature announced that its Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Health and Human Services committees will hold a joint hearing on the originally proposed Augusta facility on Jan. 5 — a day after lawmakers return in earnest for the 2017 session.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, called the hearing to ask the committees to report back with recommendations to the Legislative Council, the panel of 10 legislative leaders that must approve new construction on the capitol complex in Augusta.

But LePage called the Bangor location “a done deal” on WLOB on Wednesday, saying his administration won’t be participating in any legislative hearing on the matter.

“They can have the meeting, but the executive branch will not be present. It’s over,” he said. “We’re done. We’re moving on. We’re not re-opening this.”

That doesn’t bode well for the committees who want new information. But Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, the health committee’s new House chairwoman, said it’s still worth having and that LePage “has been known to change his thinking from minute to minute and day to day.”

“Maine people deserve to have a lot of questions asked about this facility and we are up to the task of asking these questions,” she said. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

Programming note

Just a reminder that we’ve been posting the Daily Brief less frequently over the holiday season. We’ll be back on the normal, daily schedule on Tuesday after the New Year’s Day holiday. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Neckless or necklace?: Someone in Scarborough is selling a “heart neckless,” but being neckless would make it hard to wear a necklace.
  • Half of this was nice: A woman says she’s glad her ex “found someone who makes you happy even if I would gladly cut the smile off of her face.” But she’s headed to Florida and moving on. Here’s her soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.