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LePage Wants Special Session on Drug Crisis

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage made a surprise appearance before a legislative committee and called for a special session to address the Maine's drug crisis. He also repeated his pledge to call out the National Guard if he does not get funding for more drug enforcement efforts.

In his budget earlier this year the governor called for 14 new drug enforcement agents. Lawmakers funded four of those, along with two new judges and four new drug prosecutors.

In an unscheduled and impassioned presentation to the Appropriations Committee he called for immediate action to fund ten new agents and additional judges and prosecutors to address what he says is a worsening crisis of drug addiction and death.

"Just last week alone," he says, "We had nineteen arrests, eight potential or alleged overdoses. Just in the last week. It's happening every day."

LePage says the state should not wait for the Legislature to reconvene in January to put more resources toward the problem. Members of the committee say they share the governor's concerns.

Democratic Rep. Gay Grant of Gardiner praised LePage for personally making his case to the committee.

"Thank you governor for coming in today," he says. "I really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. This is an issue that is as important to me and my district as it is to you."

But while most would acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, there is less agreement about how to solve it.

Some lawmakers say that prevention, education and treatment are critical components to a long-term solution. The governor told the panel he too supports expanded prevention and treatment efforts, but stresses that cutting off the drug supply with additional enforcement efforts is his first priority.

The additional agents, prosecutors and judges will cost at least $5 million per year and LePage urged lawmakers to find that money, since the state budget was passed over his veto.

Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves says he is willing to meet with LePage and consider his proposals — including a special session of the Legislature.

"So we will come in if we have an agreed solution," Eves says. "What I won't do is bring legislators in and waste taxpayer dollars for political theater."

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, says he has sought a meeting with with LePage for months to discuss the drug problem, and is pleased that some action may be taken on the issue.

"I've been looking forward to an opportunity to sit down and talk to the governor about this for some time, as well as a whole host of other things," he says. "So hopefully this is the beginning of the opportunity to open up the dialogue."

Speaking to reporters after his appearance before the committee, LePage said he is exploring a wide range of options to address the crisis, including using the National Guard to supplement the lack of law enforcement personnel, a move that Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says may prove difficult given federal restrictions on using the military to enforce criminal laws.

LePage says he is also exploring borrowing drug agents from other states on a contract basis, and in the long term he says the state will encourage veterans to consider a career in law enforcement.