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Veto Day: Legislature Expands Opioid Addiction Treatment, Overturns Device Ban For Drivers

The Legislature was in session Wednesday, reviewing vetoes issued by Gov. Paul LePage. Lawmakers overrode LePage’s effort to block a bill that could expand access to opioid addiction treatment, and sustained his veto of a bill that would ban motorists from using hand-held devices while driving.

The House voted 114-23 and the Senate voted 30-4 to override the governor’s veto of the opioid bill, which allows the Department of Health and Human Services to increase MaineCare reimbursement rates to treatment providers. The proposal also allows registered nurses and nurse practitioners to dispense methadone to outpatient treatment clinics.

“It allows RNs and LPNs to dispense methadone to outpatient treatment clinics, consistent with all other states,” said Republican Rep. Karen Vachon of Scarborough, who co-sponsored the proposal. “This change will save money and LPNs and RNs are very capable of providing this service.”

The new law will also allow DHHS to increase MaineCare reimbursement rates to providers, but doesn’t mandate it. Right now Maine has the lowest reimbursement rate for providers in the country, which treatment advocates say has limited access during the heroin epidemic.

As for the hand-held device ban, the governor vetoed the proposal, arguing that it won’t be effective in curbing motorists from texting or surfing the web on their phones while driving. The Republican-controlled Senate voted to override LePage, 24-10. But House Republicans sustained the veto by blocking the necessary two-thirds vote to override LePage.

Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond sponsored the bill, which was supported by the Maine State Police. He said Maine’s current distracted driving law is too difficult to enforce.

“If we don’t stop this epidemic soon, then we’re going to be even more regretful of all the evidence and all the actions and tragedies that take place,” he said.

The proposal received a unanimous vote by the Transportation Committee. Diamond is hopeful a future Legislature will pass a ban.

This story was originally published Aug. 2, 2017 at 3:05 p.m. ET.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.