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August 21, 2013

Maine lawmakers returning for bond vote Aug. 29

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday called for a special session to bring lawmakers back to Augusta to vote on a state borrowing package for roads and schools and to address the fate of a state-run psychiatric hospital that may soon lose more than half its operating budget.

The Democratic-led Legislature will return Aug. 29 to vote on the $149.5 million bond package for highways and school buildings that LePage and Democratic leaders recently agreed to after weeks of sparring over bonds.

"Now is the time for the state to invest in these much-needed infrastructure improvements, especially when the federal government is flat-funding these projects," LePage said in a statement.

The proposal includes $100 million for transportation, $35.5 million for schools facilities and $14 million for armory maintenance and renovations.

The Appropriations Committee will meet Thursday to vote on the package.

Then it heads to the full Legislature and is placed on the November ballot for voter approval.

The proposal will need two-thirds' majority support in both chambers, and Democrats and Republicans said Wednesday they are confident they will reach that threshold.

LePage said he also wants lawmakers to take action on problems facing the 92-bed Riverview Psychiatric Center. More than half the hospital's beds are occupied by corrections system patients. But because it's not a prison, Riverview doesn't have security or protocols for dealing with those patients.

Last week, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it might cut $20 million from the hospital by Sept. 2 for failing to meet certification standards. The federal government cited overcrowding and inadequate staffing, and a report said regulators were horrified by the way patients were subdued with stun guns and handcuffs.

House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said Wednesday that Democrats also want a swift solution.

"The patients at our state psychiatric facilities need to know that it's a safe place to be," he said. "So we are partners at that table finding solutions."

The Appropriations Committee is expecting Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew to brief lawmakers about Riverview on Thursday.





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