AUGUSTA — Lawmakers on Monday revised and approved a bill to expand protections for people at the site of a drug overdose to address concerns expressed by Gov. Janet Mills.

The bill, which expands Good Samaritan protections, now goes to Mills, who is expected to sign it. She and advocates had been at odds over who should be protected from arrest at the scene.

Advocates wanted to protect anyone at the scene from arrest, as long as they were not accused of violent crimes, including sex trafficking and crimes against children, while Mills wanted those protections limited to people who were rendering aid to the victim.

Lawmakers in both the Maine House and Senate passed the advocates’ version of the bill, but recalled it, after Mills threatened to veto it.

The compromise would adopt the “rendering aid” requirement, while broadly defining that to mean “performing any action that involves looking after a person who is experiencing a drug-related overdose,” while waiting for emergency responders.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, applauded the compromise on the Senate floor Monday.

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“I think a big reason we were able to do that is because of the really thoughtful, heartfelt and vulnerable debate we had in this,” Maxmin said. “This one is going to go back to the governor’s desk and she’s going to sign it. And it’s going to be the strongest Good Samaritan law in the country.”

Maxmin said in an interview Friday that the bill will shift the burden of proof from people at the scene to police. Rather than someone having to prove they were rendering aid, it would be up to police to prove they weren’t.

A spokesperson said the governor is grateful that Maxmin and recovery advocates were willing to collaborate on a solution.

“The Governor is grateful to Senator Maxmin and the recovery community for their partnership and collaboration,” Lindsay Crete said Friday. “This amendment will protect those who are helping to save a life while not shielding those who are unwilling to help – an important balance that builds on the work of the Good Samaritan law the Governor signed in 2019. She is glad that she will be able to sign into law a compromise that makes progress.”

Last year, a record 636 people died of a suspected drug overdose in Maine, a 23 percent increase from the previous record set in 2020.

Recovery advocates mounted an aggressive push in the final weeks of the legislative session to expand those protections, saying that calls for emergency care are either being delayed or not made because other people on the scene are afraid of being arrested for drug possession or a bail violation.

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Enacted in 2019, the existing law protects only the caller and the person who overdosed from being charged with a crime. Mills’ proposal would also protect people who may not have called 9-1-1, but who tried to help the victim, by administering the overdose antidote naloxone, for example, or performing CPR.

During the House debate, several lawmakers shared their personal stories about losing loved ones to fatal drug overdoses.

Courtney Allen, an organizing director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, which pushed for the bill, said Monday she is happy with the compromise.

“I am proud of organizers and lawmakers who stood our ground,” Allen said. “We were clear that we wanted a Good Sam law that was strong and truly would encourage people to call 9-1-1. The deal we negotiated with the (governor) is just that. I am pleased with Gov. Mills’ willingness to meet us at the table and craft sound public policy that is not only supported by all parties but will save lives. We look forward to her signature.”

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