Gov. Janet Mills wants the Legislature to revisit the changes lawmakers made to the state’s Good Samaritan law that provides immunity to people at a site where law enforcement has been summoned to help someone who is overdosing on drugs.

Mills said Tuesday that she will veto the bill that lawmakers passed to expand immunity, primarily for drug offenses, but pledged to sign a measure if it covered only those actually helping someone who is overdosing. The governor said the version sent to her desk is too broad and would provide immunity to people even if they are doing nothing to help the person who is overdosing.

The current law, adopted in 2019, generally provides immunity only to an individual helping and the person who is overdosing. Maine shattered its annual record for overdose deaths in 2021 with 636 deaths, a 23 percent increase over 2020.

Mills said she believes the bill as passed by lawmakers “will have unintended consequence of allowing drug trafficking to occur wholesale while leaving us helpless to do anything about it. I’m afraid it will make the opioid epidemic worse, not better.”

Mills supports an earlier version of the bill that made it clear that immunity would be extended only to those at the scene of an overdose who are helping the victim. That “represents a right-sized, reasonable approach that expands immunity without hamstringing the ability of law enforcement to act when needed,” she said.

She asked legislators to recall from her desk the bill they passed and substitute the more limited measure, which was approved by a majority of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Mills’ action came a day before a coalition of more than 20 groups supporting the broader expansion plans to rally at the State House in Augusta.

The “Expand Good Sam” coalition said groups that back the measure opposed by Mills include recovery groups, harm reduction organizations, medical associations and civil rights groups.

The goal, they said, is a measure that would help curb overdose deaths by allowing people to call 911 for help without worrying about criminal consequences. They said the need for the bill is reflected in more than 600 overdose deaths in Maine last year, an increase of 25 percent over the year before.

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