Governor LePage of Maine recently vetoed a 911 Good Samaritan bill that would have saved thousands of lives from accidental drug overdose. The bill, LD 1044, sought limited immunity from some drug or paraphernalia charges to people experiencing a drug overdose or witnesses who sought help for the victim. Nationally, drug overdose kills more people than car accidents, and thirteen states have passed 911 Good Samaritan laws to encourage people to seek help during life-threatening situations without fear of legal repercussions.
Clearly LePage hasn't been paying attention to his neighbors. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, after vetoing a similar bill in 2012, was so thoroughly trounced by the media and coalitions of overdose prevention advocates that he reversed his position only months later and signed a bill into law. Former Governor Schwarzenegger's 2010 veto didn't win him any popularity points either, and soon after California passed a 911 Good Samaritan law without him.
Even the Maine legislature attempted to override LePage's veto by a two-thirds vote. The House mustered the necessary votes to blot out the Governor's red pen, but the Senate fell short by three votes and the veto remains in effect.
"Governor LePage believes we'll solve the drug problem in Maine through law enforcement and reliance on the judicial system," says Jayne Harper of the MaineGeneral Prevention Center, who advocated for the bill. "In the future, I hope our policy makers will adopt a public health approach to pave the way for overdose bystanders to respond in the same way they would if the victim were having a heart attack."
LePage justified his decision by claiming that he was "concerned this bill may create an unnecessary barrier for drug enforcement when drug use remains a significant scourge in [Maine]."
Significant scourge? Exactly. 911 Good Samaritan laws are designed to reduce such scourges by placing the value of human life above arrest for low-level crimes. Let's hope Governor LePage learns his lesson in the coming months and joins the other Wall of Shamers who reversed their vetoes and said 'yes' to second chances. Otherwise, Gov. Christie had better stage an intervention before the people of Maine get wind of this and drag LePage through the press, New Jersey-style.