The expansion of the Good Samaritan law in Maine should be a good, easy bit of help for a terrible problem that continues to plague our state but is being sadly overlooked in the face of the ongoing pandemic: overdoses.

It’s a completely nonpartisan issue that doesn’t face any ideological hurdles in its passage, it doesn’t cost much (if any) money to fund, and it doesn’t really expand the imprint of government in any way, shape or form. It’s pretty much the ideal piece of legislation from all points of view on the ideological spectrum: It helps to solve a real problem without expanding government at all, costing any money or infringing on individual liberty. Insofar as any legislation can be perfect, this bill basically is. That’s why, as originally written, it sailed through the House with bipartisan support and easily passed in the Senate.

Yet, somehow, a tiny bit of controversy almost prevented this bill’s passage and hardened positions on it into partisan stances. It shouldn’t have, but this legislation is sadly emblematic of how Augusta – and, by extension, American politics as a whole – functions these days. As noted above, the problem isn’t really with the law itself: As originally written, L.D. 1862 merely expands the 2019 Maine Good Samaritan law (which should have been passed decades ago) to include all bystanders of a drug overdose.

Essentially, that means that if you’re at a friend’s house, or at a party at a club, and you witness an overdose and someone calls 911, you won’t end up being charged with a crime. This makes perfect sense, right? If you’re at the scene of a drug overdose and someone there has the presence of mind to call 911, rather than running, you shouldn’t be punished for it. Doing so only enwraps in the judicial system everyday people who, despite being in a terrible scene, are trying to do the right thing. If we allow them to be charged with a crime, that would only discourage people from calling 911, which would increase the number of drug overdose deaths – already a staggering problem in Maine.

Now, you might wonder if the user’s dealer happens to be on the scene and he’s the one who calls 911, is that essentially a get-out-of-jail free card? Or, if someone murders somebody having a drug overdose, are they exempt from being charged for murder? The answer is no, of course not. The original legislation isn’t some wacky bill that exempts everyone within visual distance of a drug overdose from being charged. Serious crimes are exempted from the exemption. That seemingly minor clause prevents this law from becoming a major loophole for criminals who might otherwise exploit it. It should be more than enough to prevent any serious law enforcement concerns about the bill, but somehow, it isn’t.

You see, last week, Gov. Mills demanded that the Legislature recall the bill and modify it to limit it in accordance with the concerns of law enforcement. Lawmakers agreed, but they shouldn’t have. All the original legislation does is save lives – it does nothing to hamper police.

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Now, when pressed on the issue, the best that law enforcement could come up with was that the original bill might prevent them from arresting somebody who happened to be at the scene of an overdose and did nothing to help the victim. While that’s deplorable, keep in mind, again, that they’re not talking about somebody who committed murder or rape. They’re talking about somebody who might have had drugs on their person and who police wanted to arrest anyway.

Even as someone who fully supports law enforcement and strict enforcement of the law, I find that argument pretty hard to swallow because, frankly, it doesn’t make much sense at all. If law enforcement officials are truly committed to doing what’s best for the community rather than racking up statistics, they shouldn’t have even been considering arresting these people in the first place. And, indeed, they admitted that, for the most part, they haven’t. That’s because, while Maine cops, like human beings everywhere, aren’t perfect, generally they do a pretty good job – they want to catch real criminals, not punish bystanders.

So, the Legislature should have stuck with the original version, and advocates should keep pushing for it. Even if it wasn’t good politics, it was good policy, and her job is to protect the people of Maine. A bipartisan bill that could literally save lives and costs nothing would seem to have fit that description.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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