Central Maine News: January 20, 2016
These are some of the stories central Maine is talking about today.
(AP) — The Maine Legislature has completed Job No. 1 — adopting an amended proposal sought by the governor to hire more drug agents to combat the state's heroin epidemic. The bipartisan bill passed in both the House and Senate on Tuesday, and the Gov. Paul LePage quickly signed it into law. LePage called it "just the first step in a process that needs a much more comprehensive approach." The $3.7 million package includes funding sought by LePage for 10 additional agents for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. It also includes an expansion of drug treatment programs and a 10-bed detoxification center. The bill was amended to change the source of funding. The money would come from the General Fund and from the Medical Use of Marijuana Fund.
(KJ) -- Augusta City councilors are set to decide Thursday whether to sink $500,000 worth of pilings 60 feet into the ground to stabilize the soil at the planned location of a new fire station in north Augusta. City administrators recommend spending the money to fix the unanticipated problem of soupy clay soil at the site where engineers have expressed concerns that the soil can’t support the weight of the station and the heavy firetrucks without additional stabilization. However, last week some city councilors said they want the city to consider other locations. The projected budget of $3.6 million for the new station doesn’t include the recently discovered need for about $500,000 worth of pilings to stabilize the site.
(AP) — Maine authorities have submitted more than 3,000 mental health records to the FBI's background check database in recent years. A bipartisan group of lawmakers helped pass a bill in the 2013 legislative session that required data reporting retroactive to 2008. Maine has submitted 3,022 records to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System on 1,750 people prohibited from buying guns because they were involuntary committed to a mental health institution by a court. An analysis by a gun control group found that the state had submitted 35 mental health records to the federal database as of October 2011. State officials say an electronic transfer would be more efficient than the current system, which only allows courts to send paper records.
(AP) -- An effort to reauthorize voter-approved conservation bonds in Maine is making its way through state government. Gov. Paul LePage had withheld the bonds and criticized the conservation program, but then said he would issue the $6.5 million if legislators renewed them. The Maine House of Representatives voted 145-0 to give its final approval to the reauthorization on Tuesday. The matter will now go to the Maine Senate. LePage called the Land For Maine's Future bond program a giveaway that benefits wealthy landowners and an improper use of Maine tax money. He then released $5 million in bonds, though the expired bonds that voters approved in 2010 amounted to another $6.5 million. The bonds pay for open space preservation.
(WGME) -- Gardiner Area High School students were sent home early on Tuesday after a reported threat. A phone threat claimed that bombs were in the high school building and would detonate within 30 minutes. According to WGME the message then stated that in addition to the bombs, firearms would be used after the bombs. As soon as the call ended, law enforcement was called and assisted school administration with handling this situation. The Gardiner Police arrived within a few minutes and were on the scene to assess the threat and help safely dismiss staff and students. Officials are investing, but at this point all indications lead them to believe the call is a widespread hoax.
(AP) — The death toll has risen to 19 in northwest Pakistan, gunmen have stormed a university. Police say at least two of the dead are a student and a teacher. Several other people are wounded. Police say the attack happened Wednesday shortly after the university opened. Police and the army exchanged gunfire and explosions could be heard. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
(AP) — Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is throwing her support behind Donald Trump. Trump's presidential campaign describes Palin as a conservative who "helped launch the careers of several key future leaders of the Republican Party and conservative movement."
(AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder says he's failed Flint residents, but he's pledging to take new steps to fix the city's lead contaminated tap water. In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Snyder committed millions in state funding and is deploying more National Guard members to deal with the crisis. Snyder also is pledging greater transparency. He says on Wednesday he'll release his own emails regarding Flint's water, which became contaminated when the city switched its water source in 2014.
(AP) — Several hundred members of a community in southeastern Oregon are telling the leader of an armed group holed up in a national wildlife refuge to "go." Ammon Bundy has been trying to drum up support for his cause. At a community meeting Tuesday night, residents spoke to Bundy directly. One woman thanked him for raising awareness around issues of public lands, but told him it's time to go home to his family. Other residents showed more anger toward Bundy.