Governor Mills Signs Legislation to Strengthen Public Safety & Maine’s Mental Health System

Governor Janet Mills today signed legislation she introduced that would enhance public safety and strengthen Maine’s mental health system while respecting Maine’s longstanding outdoor traditions.

The legislation, first announced by the Governor during her State of the State Address, reflects conversations she had with people and organizations across Maine in the wake of the Lewiston tragedy in which she heard a common belief that: 1) gun violence prevention is important; 2) that we must strengthen our mental health system; and 3) that dangerous people should not have access to firearms.

The Governor’s bill, taken in combination with complementary initiatives in the supplemental budget she signed earlier this week, addresses these three areas of concern in a pragmatic, responsible, and responsive way that respects the right to safe and legal gun ownership and that upholds Maine’s longstanding outdoor heritage.

The legislation improves Maine’s extreme risk protection order law, expands checks against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for advertised sales, and incentivizes checks for unadvertised sales. The supplemental budget builds on initiatives in the Governor’s bill to establish an Office of Violence Prevention at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and strengthen Maine’s mental health system by expanding crisis receiving centers, among other important public safety and mental health initiatives.

Governor Mills signs the bill in her officeThe Governor signed the bill one day after the six-month anniversary of the tragedy in Lewiston.

“Violence is not a simple problem, nor is the remedy a single, simple measure. The measures in this law are not extreme or unusual, or a cookie cutter version of another’s state’s laws. They are practical, common-sense measures that are Maine-made and true to our culture and our longstanding traditions while meeting today’s needs,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This law represents important, meaningful progress, without trampling on anybody’s rights, and it will better protect public safety by implementing reasonable reforms and by significantly expanding mental health resources. One day after the six-month anniversary of the tragedy, I am proud to say that we have taken this prudent action.”

The Governor’s legislation would improve public safety by:

  • Strengthening Maine’s Extreme Risk Protection Order Law: Citing the inability of law enforcement to take the Lewiston shooter into protective custody to initiate the extreme risk protection order law and remove his weapons, the Governor’s bill strengthens the law to allow law enforcement to seek a protective custody warrant signed by a judge, in unusual circumstances, to take a person into protective custody, providing them with another tool to use at their discretion to take dangerous people into custody to remove their weapons.
  • Extending National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to Advertised, Private Sales: The Governor’s bill requires any advertised firearm sale to be checked against the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, as is required for commercial sales at federally licensed firearm dealers.
  • Incentivizing NICS Checks for Unadvertised, Private Sales: The Governor’s bill strengthens Maine law to make it easier to prosecute anyone who sells a gun to someone not allowed to have one and toughens Maine law to make that type of illegal sale a felony, not just a misdemeanor. This approach will mean that transfers of firearms to family members or trusted friends, as is common in Maine, will remain unchanged, but it will incentivize checks against the NICS system for private, unadvertised sales to unknown individuals through the threat of increased risk of prosecution and prison time.

The supplemental budget signed by the Governor also builds on initiatives originally included in the Governor’s bill by:

  • Establishing an Office of Violence Prevention at the Maine CDC: The budget established an Office of Violence Prevention at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to coordinate and promote efforts to reduce violence, including through the creation of a central hub to bring together data about violence-related injuries and deaths that is currently kept separate (such as in police reports, medical examiner files, and emergency department files) to inform public health and prevention measures to reduce suicides and homicides in Maine. This expands on the Governor’s initial proposal in her bill to create an Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the Maine CDC.
  • Builds More Crisis Receiving Centers: The budget establishes three new crisis receiving centers, located in Lewiston, Penobscot County, and Aroostook County, and increases start-up funds for a hybrid center in Kennebec County. Building on the successful pilot in Portland, crisis receiving centers are a proven model of behavioral crisis intervention, allowing any person experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis to get immediate, appropriate, and no-cost care. The law also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to create a statewide network of crisis receiving centers. This builds on the Governor’s initial proposal in her bill to create a crisis receiving center in Lewiston and develop a similar plan for other parts of Maine.

The supplemental budget also includes important investments in addition to the Governor’s legislation, including:

  • Supporting Mobile Crisis Teams: $5.3 million ($1.7 million in General Fund) to strengthen mobile crisis response through a comprehensive MaineCare (Medicaid) payment model. This model will support teams comprised of specially trained behavioral health responders including peers who de-escalate mental health and substance use crises, assess needs, and provide an appropriate level of care in the least restrictive setting. These teams, which are dispatched to the location of a person in crisis through the 988 – Maine’s 24/7 centralized crisis lifeline – are a critical safety-net service that the Mills Administration has effectively worked with providers and national experts for the past two years to improve. This budget initiative complements the Governor’s public safety legislation.
  • Promoting Safe Firearm Storage: $100,000 enhance the promotion of Maine’s Safe Homes Program, which encourages Maine people to safely store firearms and highlights programs that make safe storage more affordable, like the tax exemption, passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, for devices specifically designed to secure firearms. The Safe Homes Program was created bythe Legislature and Governor in 2022.
  • Hiring More State Troopers: $1.7 million to establish 8 State Police Trooper positions, 2 State Police Corporal positions, 1 State Police Detective positions, 4 State Police Sergeant positions and one State Police Major position to allow Maine State Police to support Resource Coordination Agreements with counties and municipalities and continue rural policing throughout the state, providing for 24/7 operations.
  • Enhancing Funding for Extreme Risk Protection Order Assessments: $422,400 to support the surge in mental health assessments under the extreme risk protection order law since the tragedy in Lewiston. Maine’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law has been used a total of 257 times, including 176 times since the tragedy in Lewiston.
  • Creating the Maine Mass Violence Care Fund: $5 million in one-time funding to create the Maine Mass Violence Care Fund to provide coverage for physical and mental health out-of-pocket expenses that are connected to a mass violence event in Maine and are not covered by insurance. The fund will be invested by the Office of the State Treasurer with eligibility determined and proceeds distributed by the Maine Crime Victims Compensation Board within the Office of the Attorney General.
  • Funding Victims' Services: $6 million in one-time funding to address a Federal funding shortfall from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The State funding will support community-based domestic violence and sexual assault services, civil legal representation for victims, government-based victim witness advocates, and housing and supportive services for elder abuse victims.

A copy of the legislation – LD 2224, _An Act to Strengthen Public Safety by Improving Maine’s Firearm Laws and Mental Health System _– can be found here.