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LePage: Drug Agent Funding 'Really, Really Needed'

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has written a letter to legislative leaders again calling for immediate funding to hire ten additional drug enforcement agents. But the state's two top lawmakers say the governor needs to provide a more comprehensive plan to go at the problem.

LePage says that in the last two weeks there have been nine deaths attributed to heroin overdose, and he says Maine Drug Enforcement Agents have made 20 arrests. He says drug enforcement efforts need to be bolstered now.

"Right now I really think the MDEA's are really, really needed," he says. "It's a crisis out there. You know 43 meth labs, that's pretty serious stuff."

In his letter to leadership, LePage says while he supports education, treatment and prevention efforts, he'll reject any tactic that ties funding for additional agents to increased treatment spending. But the two top leaders of the Legislature say beefing up enforcement is only part of the solution.

"It is a broader issue than just, you know, ten new agents," says Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport. "I recognize that, in order to get buy in. So we are going to talk about them things, figure out what we can agree on and see if there is a framework that will work."

Thibodeau says complicating the situation is the fact that the governor is asking lawmakers to call themselves into session, rather than using his own powers to convene a special session.

Under the state constitution, each party caucus in the House and Senate must formally endorse such a session by a two-thirds vote. He doubts that can happen unless lawmakers have a comprehensive plan that includes more than just additional drug agents.

"We can't just lock people up," says House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick. "We have to treat people that are asking for help and are caught up in this insidious addiction that has definitely become an epidemic in our state."

Eves says there are a number of bills already before the Legislature, some that are carried over from earlier this year that address all aspects of the drug crisis. He believes at least some of those can form the basis for emergency legislation to start to address the problem on a broad front.

"I have always said that if we come to an agreement and a solution on this, I will call people back in," Eves says. "But, I am not going to call people back in if it is just going to be political theater, more of the same, out of the governor."

Thibodeau says he and Eves have already met to discuss how to approach the drug problem at the committee level, and presenting legislation for consideration by the full Legislature. He believes Mainers want state government to respond to the crisis.

"If you have been affected by this absolutely terrible situation, with this epidemic, you don’t want to see the legislature wait, you want us to take action," Thibodeau says. "We will expedite what we can, I guess is the bottom line."

Eves and Thibodeau say that if an agreement cannot be hammered out between lawmakers and the governor for a special session in the next few weeks, committees will prepare the legislation for the first week of January when the Legislature reconvenes and get it enacted as the top priority of the session.