- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that the “gloves are off” as he digs in for another fight with Democrats this year over his plan to increase the number of drug enforcement officials in Maine.

LePage is imploring the Legislature to back his latest $4 million budget initiative that would create seven new drug enforcement agent positions, four district court judges and four prosecutors, but he acknowledges it will be an uphill battle. He also assailed lawmakers for blocking a similar effort last session, saying residents should be disgusted by the move.

“I’m pleading with the opposition to find it in their hearts to care for our kids,” the governor said. “The gloves are off. These people need to do those jobs. The Maine people demand that we keep our children alive.”

LePage says Maine needs additional resources to stem the tide of the growing public safety threat, noting the sharp rise in the number of babies being born who are affected by drugs. But Democrats, who hold the majority in the House, say they remain concerned that the governor’s efforts won’t be effective unless the state also ramps up funding for treatment.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the crisis of babies being born to addicted moms,” said Democratic Rep. Lori Fowle, chairwoman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “I haven’t gotten an answer as to how this solves that problem,” she said.

Officials say the 35 full-time and 10 part-time drug enforcement agents across Maine are being overwhelmed by an increasing number of drug dealers from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states.

A similar fight occurred last year when LePage pushed a bill that would fund 14 new Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents, four judges and four state prosecutors. The Legislature scaled back his proposal and included $750,000 for treatment programs, but the measure was never funded.

LePage said Tuesday that he would support additional funds for treatment if lawmakers back his plan but said stressed that the state must first combat the drug problem at the source.

Meanwhile, House GOP Leader Ken Fredette said Republicans, who now control the Senate, will be united in their support of the governor’s initiative.

“We will fight until the end of this session to get these positions funded,” he said.


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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