Amid offers to help opiate users, LePage suggests death penalty for dealers

Gov. Paul LePage kept his focus on fighting Maine’s opiate addiction epidemic Tuesday when he said he supports a pending bill that would make dealing drugs that cause an overdose Class A manslaughter.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Scott Cyrway of Benton, has been voted out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and awaits consideration by the full Legislature.

“I’m all in on that one,” said LePage of the bill, during a radio appearance Tuesday on WVOM. “I think it’s a great idea. If you can find the person who sold the drug that caused the overdose, I think that’s murder.”

A radio host pointed out that the proposed legislation calls for the dealer to be charged with manslaughter, not murder.

“Well, it’s the same thing,” said LePage. “I wish it was murder and I wish it was capital punishment. We’d get rid of the problem much quicker.”

Maine lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 1876. Some lawmakers and legal observers have questioned whether Maine law already allows prosecutors to charge alleged drug dealers with manslaughter in cases where death results from their actions.

Tuesday’s exchange came as Maine’s addiction problem draws intense attention from many angles. Task forces are working on the problem at the state and federal levels, and there are several bills pending in Maine that seek to address various aspects of the problem. Last week, the national spotlight shone on Maine when President Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, attended a roundtable discussion at the State House about the problem.

Despite his focus, LePage’s approach in some instances has been lambasted. He has been critical of medication-assisted addiction treatment — which Price said clearly last week is an important tool for helping addicts — and has said repeatedly that reviving overdose victims with medications like Narcan merely extends their lives until the next overdose. LePage is backing a bill this year that would charge addicts for Narcan after the first time it’s needed. The bill is still under consideration by the State and Local Government Committee.

LePage said he hopes Price’s visit attracts more federal funding to Maine and when it comes to addicts, he reached out Tuesday with an offer to help.

“If you’re a user, go get help. Go get help,” he said. “Seek help, some form of rehab or some form of help. … I’m not sure what we’re doing right now is really helping, but we have a lot of stop-gap measures.”

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services and the United Way announced the launch of a new texting option for addicts seeking treatment. Texting your zip code to 898-211 will connect you with a Maine-based information specialist who will help callers connect with treatment options. Spread the word. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Maine’s U.S. senators say reports that President Donald Trump shared classified information with Russia are ‘troubling’ if true. That’s a reaction to the Washington Post’s bombshell report that Trump revealed “highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week.” The administration has issued a denial of the reports, but it has been confirmed by other outlets. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, issued statements calling the report “troubling” if true. Collins said any disclosure “has the potential to jeopardize sources and to discourage our allies from sharing future information vital to our security,” while King told WCSH it could “result in the loss of important intelligence sources and the cooperation of partners.” — Michael Shepherd
  • Maine won’t pay WannaCry ransom. During the weekend and on Monday, the so-called WannaCry ransomware swept the globe, with hackers demanding payment as ransome not to destroy computers and data. The damages are already estimated at more than $4 billion, but Maine state government emerged relatively unscathed. David Heidrich, spokesman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said a team from the Office of Information of Technology worked through the weekend to patch a “very small number” of state-owned devices that were vulnerable. “While I’m not aware of any systems being compromised, the state’s policy on these types of attacks is clear: We do not pay the ransom,” wrote Heidrich to the BDN. — Christopher Cousins
  • Gideon’s LIFT bill tabled until Wednesday. Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill to find new uses for $150 million in unspent federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant funding, which is seen as a priority for Democrats and a full frontal assault against the social services agenda of Gov. Paul LePage, is mired in committee. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, which like all the other committees is on a fast track to vote out its bills this week, debated the bill on Monday but ended up tabling it while members await data from the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill is due to come back for consideration on Wednesday. — Christopher Cousins

Today in A-town

We’re set for a busy day in Augusta, where the Legislature is starting to work three-day weeks on the chamber floors and getting toward the end of most committee work.

Here’s what’s on the calendars in both chambers today (disclaimer: all of these won’t necessarily be brought up):

  • Bills that would allow grocery stores to open on major holidays and could move Maine to another time zone face enactment votes. These two bills — respectively from Reps. James Gillway, R-Searsport, and Donna Bailey, D-Saco, look primed for passage. The House will vote on Gillway’s bill to allow grocery stores measuring 10,000 square feet or less to open on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. It has passed initially in both chambers and will face final action in the Senate. Bailey’s bill, which would ask voters to move Maine to the Atlantic Time Zone (but only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire also move, so don’t hold your breath) has been approved in the House and faces a final Senate vote today. However, LePage has called that bill “crazy,” so it’ll likely have to sustain a veto if it passes. The last House vote fell just short of the two-thirds support that would be needed to override a veto.
  • A mining compromise, the ‘death with dignity’ bill and LePage’s proposal to charge people who overdose on opiates for repeat antidote doses are up for initial votes. The stringent mining rules proposed by Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, are up for an initial vote in the House on Tuesday. They’re sailing for passage after a unanimous Senate vote last week, with Democrats backing the proposal because it bans open-pit mining and Republicans supporting it because it allows a pathway to mine in Maine. A bill from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, to make Maine the seventh state to legalize assisted suicide is up for an initial vote in the Senate. An earlier proposal failed by just one vote in 2015, but a LePage veto threat looms. The governor’s opiate antidote bill — which was opposed by the medical community — is up for a Senate vote today, but it’s going nowhere after failing last week in the House. Also up for initial votes on Tuesday are bills to allow Amish hunters to wear red instead of orange while hunting, strengthen laws against sex trafficking and ban elephants from traveling acts in Maine.
  • The chambers will handle four LePage vetoes, which include a bill aimed at getting cities and towns to phase out the use of plastic shopping bags. The governor vetoed that bill last week, saying it’ll be “just be another cause of uncertainty in our economy.” However, it’s been watered down to the point where it’s nearly meaningless, enshrining the goal of increasing the use of reusable bags in state policy while mandating little to do that. The House will vote on overriding that veto on Tuesday, along with two LePage vetoes holding up proposals to protect Maine’s electric grid and move Baileyville’s town line because of a business park accidentally placed partially in Baring Plantation. The Senate will vote on overriding LePage’s veto of a bill changing some background check requirements before an adoption.

Committees will also be busy, with bills to create a statewide teacher contract, scrap limits on hydroelectric generators, restore MaineCare services to people with mental illnesses who were eligible for them before new rules in 2016 up for work sessions. Here’s that full schedule. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • This man wants you to replace his injured sword sparring partner. This Freeport man practices with swords, but his regular partner “hurt his wrist during combat training,” so he needs someone new and “all you have to do is show up.” Go at your own risk. Here’s your soundtrack.
  • Be more specific? “very beautiful girl home depot I wanna take you out for a nice dinner,” says a man who apparently saw a woman at the store in Biddeford but gave no further details. “please give me this opportunity..” — Michael Shepherd

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.