AUGUSTA – Beginning in January, there will be full-time screening for weapons at the entrance of the State House, according to a new security proposal by legislative leaders.

Security has become a top issue for legislators for several reasons, including the arrest of one lawmaker last weekend on charges of criminal threatening and carrying a concealed weapon.

State Rep. Frederick Wintle, R-Garland, allegedly pointed a loaded pistol at a man in the parking lot of a Dunkin’ Donuts on Saturday in Waterville. After his arrest, fellow lawmakers said his behavior had become increasingly odd in recent weeks.

Wintle, who initially was held in the Kennebec County jail, was sent to a mental health facility after jail officials sought a psychiatric evaluation for him. Sheriff Randall Liberty said Thursday that Wintle was transferred Monday night.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, who is a lawyer, is representing Wintle until he obtains other counsel. Fredette said he would not talk about Wintle’s whereabouts or condition.

Concerns about lax security around the Capitol complex have been discussed since January, when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot during a public event in Tucson. A panel of legislative leaders has explored ways to ensure the safety of the public and lawmakers.

On Thursday, House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, told members of the Legislative Council that about $546,000 would be added to the Capitol Police budget to pay personnel to do the screening.

“It’s designed to start when we come back into the second session of this Legislature,” Nutting said in an interview after the meeting. “From then on, it will be full time.”

The proposed legislative budget still would reduce overall spending by $8.3 million, about 14 percent from the biennial budget that ends June 30, Nutting said.

The money for Capitol Police would pay for one police officer and four security officers to staff screening equipment that was purchased several years ago with money from a federal homeland security grant.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said he opposed the proposal, despite the recent events.

“This is the people’s house, and I don’t believe people should be coming to the Capitol and feel like they are walking into Fort Knox,” he said in an interview.

“My belief system is that you shouldn’t have to walk through metal screeners, you shouldn’t have to see five extra police officers without any reason or justification,” he said.

Alfond said he has never felt threatened in his three years of legislative service and doesn’t think the spending is justified. “I think it sends the wrong message,” he said.

The policy change will likely lead Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, to drop his support for a bill he sponsored, which would allow concealed-weapons permit holders to carry guns in the State House. L.D. 932 is opposed by Democrats and got a divided committee vote.

Crafts said Thursday that his intention was just to increase security around the building.

“I was concerned about the safety of the building and especially (in the House chamber), because once you’re in there, you’re in a fishbowl,” he said.

As things are, anybody could walk into the building with a concealed weapon, he said.

Crafts said he spoke with leadership recently and will let his bill die if he is satisfied with the new security plan.

“I’m just kind of holding it to see what the plan is actually going to be. … If I feel that the members are safe and the public’s safe, then I am OK with it,” he said.

Asked why he didn’t just submit a bill to require security screening, Crafts said, “Well, I would want to see that. If I am going to be in here without being able to personally protect myself, then we need to make sure that nothing’s coming in here.”

Other measures regarding guns are on the legislative agenda.

One proposal, L.D. 35, would prevent an employer from banning any employee who holds a concealed-firearms permit from keeping a gun in their car, as long as the car is locked and the firearm remains out of sight.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, was initially opposed by business groups, but was amended to address their concerns about potential lawsuits.

Despite the emotionally charged atmosphere surrounding gun issues since Wintle’s arrest, Nutting said he has no reason to believe that the bills will not be taken up as scheduled.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]