House Republicans back Gov. LePage, prevent review of mental health care cuts

Support services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism were dealt a blow last night as the Maine House of Representatives voted to uphold a veto by Governor Paul LePage of a bill that would have ensured that potentially disastrous cuts to mental health services would not take place without legislative review.

The 83-66 decision saw Republican representatives Robert Foley of Wells, Paul Stearns of Guilford and Karl Ward of Dedham flip their initial votes in support of the bill to instead back LePage’s veto.

“These Mainers told us loud and clear that their ability to stay in their homes and out of institutions was in jeopardy. They asked us for one simple thing: legislative review of changes that could devastate their lives. They took extraordinary measures to bring this matter before the Legislature,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Republicans turned their backs on them today by putting partisan loyalty over the safety and well-being of some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

LD 1682 was crafted by the Health and Human Services Committee after more than 1,000 Mainers affected by a DHHS plan formally petitioned the Legislature to intervene. DHHS’s attempt to substitute a simple standardized test for a more complete assessment of need would have cut off critical supports for vulnerable Mainers. The administration later withdrew the specific rule change, but with LePage’s veto can now re-implement it or a similar measure without legislative oversight.

In his veto letter, Gov. LePage accused supporters of the bill of being “socialists” who were engaging in “election year pandering.”

“Without the support from our staff, we would not be able to be so active,” said Jackie Ziniel, a resident of group home in Portland whose testimony against the rule changes was quoted by the Bangor Daily News. “I would spend all day in my room like a lump on a log. Please don’t take this away from me.”

Photo via Andi Parkinson.

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