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Politics

LePage to Propose Comprehensive Drug Bill

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is asking lawmakers to delay consideration of legislation on expanding the Windham Correctional Center so he can replace the bill with a comprehensive response to the state’s drug crisis.

He says it will address drug treatment and education, and drug courts, building on the bipartisan plan that was passed by lawmakers this week.

Appearing on MPBN’s Maine Calling, LePage says he has prepared a letter to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee asking that they delay consideration of his Windham Correctional Center legislation until he can finish work on a comprehensive drug proposal.

“We just started on this a month ago, we’re not quite ready to give you a presentation but I am going to be ready shortly to give a comprehensive, conceptual framework of what we want to do and then we’ll get the rest of the plans together,” he says.

The governor says the bill he signed earlier this week is just a first step in addressing the drug crisis in the state. He says the ten new drug agents will help interdict drugs, but he says the treatment and education components are not enough, and he will be proposing greater efforts as part of his plan.

Lawmakers have questioned how the state could pay for more treatment services, but LePage dismissed the suggestion that the state is operating under a tight budget.

“It’s not a tight budget, what it is is a difference in priorities,” he says. “I have my priorities to the elder community, to children, to mental illness and with drugs, I include drugs in there. Those are my top priorities. My top priority is not Lands for Maine’s Future like a lot of other people.”

The governor says the state can avoid spending millions of dollars in debt service if it sells fewer bonds and can afford the costs of the drug response plan if the Legislature agrees that it’s a priority.

The comprehensive drug plan came as news to many lawmakers in both parties. Westbrook Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee says he hopes the governor does come up with a comprehensive plan.

“We have a number of bills in front of the HHS committee this session, there are some bills in other committees to build on what we did this week with the comprehensive bill,” he says. “If the administration has ideas or has a renewed willingness to really engage, really deeply on coming up with a comprehensive solution to these problems, I think that is only a positive thing.”

Gattine says it will take considerable additional resources to address the drug treatment needs of the state.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, a Republican from Winterport, says he is pleased that the governor is talking about submitting a plan to address all aspects of the drug crisis. Thibodeau introduced the drug bill adopted this week and acknowledges that it was only meant as a first step toward addressing the problem.

“Probably will, you know, create a lot of interest from a lot of groups that will be affected,” he says. “Look forward to hearing from them as well. But, we need to think outside the box and the governor is famous for doing that.”

Both Thibodeau and Gattine say resources will be an issue in whatever plan the governor proposes or lawmakers craft in the months ahead. But, they say the issue is so important that all sides will have to put aside personal conflicts and focus on finding solutions to the crisis.

To listen to today's full Maine Calling, featuring Gov. Paul LePage, click here.