We went into the second regular session of the 127th Legislature looking to build on the successes of last year, when we worked to ban the shackling of pregnant women in correctional custody and to reduce some first-time, low-level drug possession charges. We faced a governor that seems hell-bent on ramping up the failed law enforcement approach, while denying people access to the treatment and recovery services they need.
Today we can say we have made even more progress toward ending Maine’s overreliance on punishment and incarceration as a way to fix societal problems.
LD 1554 became law today without the signature of the governor. The law makes possession of heroin and other drugs a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Both houses of the Legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.
The final version of LD 1554 was amended to make first and subsequent charges for low-level possession – including less that 200 mg of heroin – a misdemeanor, unless the individual has a prior furnishing or trafficking conviction. The amendment had the support of bipartisan legislators, Attorney General Janet Mills, and advocates for drug law reform.
Yesterday, the Bangor Daily News ran a helpful update on the status of efforts in the Legislature to change Maine's approach to drug use. We're thankful the Legislature recognizes the value of treatment over jail, even if the governor doesn't.
Gov. Paul LePage says he’s given up on working to ease the state’s drug crisis. Fortunately, lawmakers are still at work on the issue — and the governor’s lack of involvement could lead to a better outcome.
Earlier this month, Gov. LePage signed LD 1639, “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Intergovernmental Pretrial Justice Task Force,” into law. The ACLU of Maine supported the bill, which will improve Maine’s pretrial system by making reforms to the bail system and the imposition of fines on indigent defendants.
America’s mass incarceration problem has disastrous consequences for all of us. There is of course the incredible fiscal cost of incarcerating one quarter of the world’s prisoners – federal spending on incarceration is estimated at $80 billion a year. That’s $80 billion we could be spending on education, hospitals, and programs that would prevent criminal activity in the first place.
Poor people should never be locked up for being unable to pay their legal debts. Putting someone in jail for failure to pay a fine creates a two-tiered justice system where poor people are punished more harshly than people who can afford to pay their fines. Doing so is unconstitutional and a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, yet several states – including Maine – still rely on this system of de facto debtors’ prisons.
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear the most important reproductive rights case in decades. The lawsuit challenges two provisions of Texas law that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some women to have an abortion. One requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic; the other requires abortion clinics to meet the standards for an ambulatory surgical center.
A new program taking aim at the nation’s growing drug problem, one that has been successful in towns such as Gloucester, MA and bigger cities such as Seattle and Baltimore, is now being sought after by many other states, cities, and towns. Maine is one of those states.
The law in Maine is clear: it is illegal to discriminate against people because they are transgender. As a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court further clarified, that means transgender girls must not be blocked from using the girls’ restroom at school, and likewise transgender boys must not be blocked from using the boys’ room.