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After compromise, Mills supports expansion to Maine’s ‘Good Samaritan’ law

The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
The Maine State House is seen at sunrise, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Advocates in Maine's recovery community have reached an agreement with Gov. Janet Mills on a bill to expand the state's so-called "Good Samaritan" law.

Maine's current "Good Samaritan" law provides immunity from arrest or prosecution to anyone who calls 911 to report a drug overdose and to the person who needs medical help. But with Maine seeing record numbers of fatal drug overdoses, lawmakers voted this week to expand that protection to other people at the scene in hopes of encouraging more people to quickly call for help during those crucial first minutes.

Echoing concerns raised by law enforcement, Mills said that immunity was too broad and threatened to veto the bill. But the two sides reached a compromise this week that will extend the immunity to anyone "rendering aid" at the scene, as long as they haven't committed any violent crimes, such as sexual assault or crimes against children.

Senator Chloe Maxmin, the Nobleboro Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the changes will still help save lives.

"The leaves the bill as the strongest Good Samaritan law in the country and the agreement that we came to with the governor's office is supported by the recovery advocates who have been working on this bill,” Maxmin said on Thursday.

Maxmin said the current “Good Samaritan” law is too narrow because it only applies to a “very limited set of five offenses,” leading to confusion that could discourage someone from calling for help. As an example, she said people are protected if they are violating their probation but not if they are violating their bail. But the revised bill makes clearer who is protected and who is not — with violent offenders still being liable to arrest or prosecution, Maxmin said.

Mills, a Democrat who served as Maine’s attorney general and as a prosecutor, had sent a letter to Maxmin as well as legislative leaders earlier this week stressing that she could not sign the first version of the bill and urging lawmakers to recall it from her desk.

“The governor is grateful to Senator Maxmin and the recovery community for their partnership and collaboration,” Mills’ spokeswoman Lindsay Crete said in a statement on Thursday. “This amendment will protect those who are helping to save a life while not shielding those who are unwilling to help — an important balance that builds on the work of the Good Samaritan law the Governor signed in 2019. She is glad that she will be able to sign into law a compromise that makes progress.”

Lawmakers are expected to take up the revised bill on Monday, which is supposed to be the final day of the 2022 legislative session.