Governor Mills Unveils Legislation to Strengthen Public Safety & Mental Health System in Wake of Lewiston Tragedy

Governor Janet Mills today unveiled legislation 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, stems from conversations with lawmakers and with people and organizations across Maine 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 proposal 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 establishes a violence prevention program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, strengthens Maine’s mental health system by expanding crisis receiving centers, improves Maine’s extreme risk protection order law, expands checks against the National Instant Crime Background Check System for advertised, private sales, and incentivizes checks for unadvertised sales.

The legislation is also complemented by several supplemental budget initiatives announced by the Governor that further strengthens public safety and mental health.

The Governor’s bill is sponsored by Senator Peggy Rotundo and Representative Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston. It is cosponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson and Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, as well as Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, and House Majority Leader Maureen Terry.

“Violence is not a simple problem, nor is the remedy a single, simple measure. The proposals in this bill 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. They represent meaningful progress, without trampling on anybody’s rights, and they will better protect public safety,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I hope that lawmakers will approach these proposals with an open mind, reflecting not only upon what they believe is best but on what those who disagree with them believe is best as well. For the sake of the communities, individuals, and families now suffering immeasurable pain, and for the sake of our state, we will act.”

“The tragic events of October 25 are still foremost in the minds of the people of Lewiston. My community is understandably looking to its leaders in Augusta for a sign that we are taking our responsibility seriously and are committed to finding ways to keep gun violence from harming our families and neighbors again,” said Senator Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston. “The Governor’s bill is a thoughtful approach to addressing gun violence and mental health care. I am determined to finish this legislative session with legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of Maine people and help prevent gun violence from hurting our people. I believe we can get there by working hard and respecting each other’s views. I appreciate the Governor’s leadership on this issue and look forward to working with her and others to find smart, effective solutions to protect the people of Maine.”

“This violence prevention legislation proposed by Governor Mills represents a thoughtful and meaningful step forward to help ensure that a devastating tragedy like the one that occurred in Lewiston won’t happen again to another Maine community,” said Representative Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston. “Strengthening our Extreme Risk Protection Order law and closing the current background check loophole will go a long way toward keeping firearms out of the hands of people who intend to cause harm to themselves or others. The additional behavioral health investments in the supplemental budget proposal – including the creation of a mass violence care fund – also demonstrate our state’s commitment to providing a continuum of care for the victims and their families. Our community’s difficult healing process will continue long into the future, and this will provide folks with the support they need when they need it.”

“Nothing will bring back the Mainers who were brutally murdered, take away the pain of those injured or erase the trauma experienced by survivors and first responders in the aftermath of the horrific Lewiston shooting. But that doesn’t mean Maine can’t take meaningful steps to reduce gun violence and better protect our families and communities, and we can do this in a way that recognizes and respects the rights and traditions of responsible gunowners and sportsmen in this state,” said Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash. “The thoughtful policies unveiled by the Governor address the issue of gun violence in our state from all angles improving access to mental health care, ensuring law enforcement has the tools to implement the yellow flag law and keeping firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”

“No community in Maine is immune from gun violence. Whether through domestic violence, suicide or mass shootings, gun violence affects us all. The epidemic of gun violence requires urgent leadership and action. I commend Governor Mills for her careful consideration and her willingness to put forward necessary reforms that are right for Maine,” said Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland. “In partnership with the Legislature, I’m confident that we will finally pass common-sense gun safety measures that protect Mainers and reduce the risk of gun-related incidents.”

More specifically, the Governor’s bill would:

  1. Establish an Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the Maine CDC: Recognizing that Maine does not have a violence prevention program like many states, the Governor’s bill creates an Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention as 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 allow Maine to identify patterns to inform public health and prevention measures to reduce suicides and homicides in Maine. This is supported by $1 million in the Governor’s supplemental budget.

  2. Strengthen Maine’s Mental Health System: The Governor’s bill proposes to establish a statewide network of crisis receiving centers – a proven model of behavioral crisis intervention – so that any person suffering a mental health crisis can get prompt and appropriate care. The bill proposes to establish a crisis receiving center in Lewiston – building on the successful Portland center and a similar one being established in Kennebec County – while developing and implementing a plan for a broader network that provides greater access to behavioral health services for people across the state. This is supported by $950,000 in one-time start-up funding and $450,000 in ongoing funds for the Lewiston crisis receiving center in the Governor’s supplemental budget.

  3. Prohibit Dangerous People from Possessing Weapons:

    • Strengthen 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.

    • Extend 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.

    • Incentivize 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.

View an updated fact sheet of the bill, including other provisions (PDF). The legislation is also complemented by the following initiatives in the Governor’s supplemental budget:

  • Supporting Mobile Crisis Teams: $2.8 million ($633,000 in ongoing General Fund) for Fiscal Year 2025, supplemented by enhanced Federal matching funds, 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 988 – Maine’s 24/7 centralized crisis lifeline – are a critical safety-net service that the Mills Administration has worked with providers and national experts for the past two years to improve. In 2023, Maine Mobile Crisis responded to 14,849 encounters, 93 percent of which occurred within two hours of referral and 99 percent of which avoided hospitalization.
  • Promoting Safe Firearm Storage: $200,000 in one-time funding, supplemented by Federal matching funds, to 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 by the Legislature and Governor in 2022.
  • Hiring More State Troopers: $5.5 million ($3.6 million in General Fund) to establish 16 State Police Trooper positions, 4 State Police Corporal positions, 3 State Police Detective positions, 8 State Police Sergeant positions and one State Police Major position to allow Maine State Police to maintain 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. The Governor announced in her State of the State Address that the law has been used 15 times more in the three months after the shooting in Lewiston than it had been during the three previous years it was on the books.
  • 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, victim witness advocates, and housing and supportive services for elder abuse victims.
  • 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.

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 (PDF).