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Maine's Drug Bill May Need Further Work

AUGUSTA, Maine — House Republicans on the Legislature's Appropriations Committee are balking at a proposal to use money from a court settlement for funding additional drug treatment efforts. That could lead to an effort to amend the bill, which Gov. Paul LePage has said he'll veto.

There is agreement on the budget-writing committee that the state needs to start to address the Maine's drug crisis on several fronts, including an expansion of drug treatment efforts.

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, a Republican from Turner, says he made his motion to change the funding source to bolster chances the bill will finally pass.

"I'm not sure if the governor is going to veto it or not," he says. "My suspicion is that if you try and take it out of the Standard and Poor's, he'll veto it, because there is a better way to fund it in his opinion and mine."

Timberlake is referring to Maine's share of a more than $1 billion settlement of a lawsuit by Maine and other states against Standard and Poor's over unfair trade practices involving inflated ratings of securities. Maine got more than $21 million as its share of the lawsuit settlement, and at the time Attorney General Janet Mills said the money would be used for consumer protection efforts.

But in a recent letter to the Committee, Mills said using $2.4 million for drug treatment was an appropriate use of the money. Timberlake isn't sure.

"Everybody, up until to today, still doesn't know who really has the jurisdiction over that Standard and Poor's allocation, and was the Standard and Poor's allocation supposed to be used for drugs?" he says.

Timberlake and the other House Republicans on the panel proposed using money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine instead.

Sen. Jim Hamper, a Republican from Oxford co-chairs the committee, and fellow GOP Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta voted with the Democrats on the panel to use money from the Standard and Poor's settlement. But Hamper acknowledges that the funding source could lead to a veto and jeopardize passage of the legislation.

"I would love to see House Republicans work with House Democrats and get, if there is a proposal they have that can, get a majority down there," he says.

Hamper says either funding source would be acceptable to him. He says the state has to address the drug crisis and this bill is only the beginning. He serves on an Oxford County task force trying to address the opioid problem in that area of the state.

Democrats on the Committee say they were surprised at the funding concern raised by House Republicans.

"There was no public discussion about that, there was no vetting about the use of that funding for this purpose, so we felt it was important to go forward with what had been proposed publicly and had been vetted publicly," says Rep. Peggy Rotundo from Lewiston, committee co-chair.

Now that the bill is out of committee, any lawmaker can offer an amendment on the floor of the House or Senate.

Whether the two parties in the House will work out an amendment is far from certain. What both parties on the committee say they don't want to see is an effort to address drug treatment fail.