Democratic criminal justice bills die after Maine lawmakers uphold Janet Mills' vetoes

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Jun. 30—AUGUSTA, Maine — Several bills aiming to overhaul Maine's criminal justice system, including efforts to close the state's youth prison and decriminalize prostitution, died on Wednesday after the Legislature upheld a ream of vetoes from Gov. Janet Mills.

Those measures were two of 12 to fall to the Democratic governor's veto pen Wednesday toward the end of a legislative session marked by intraparty discord between liberal lawmakers and the relatively moderate Mills on issues ranging from criminal justice, labor, taxes and utility regulation. More vetoes are expected in the next two weeks.

Advocates have led a years-long push to close Long Creek Youth Development Center for years, arguing that the 164-bed prison is too big and expensive for roughly 30 children. Most of the children held at Long Creek are there because police determined that they cannot go home, a state task force found last year. The bill would have wound down the center by 2023.

In her veto letter, Mills cited her administration's plans to further reduce youth confinement, build out more community programs and create regional care teams for those in the juvenile justice system, saying the bill "represents a simplistic solution to a complex issue."

But Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, the co-chair of the criminal justice committee, said while she knew the effort to override Mills' veto would not succeed, the governor should meet with families of children at Long Creek to develop a plan to close it.

"We all know how it goes around here," she said. "If you don't put it in statute, it's not going to happen."

The prostitution bill was a high-profile measure from Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, that would have made Maine the first state in the nation to completely decriminalize prostitution. At the same time, it would have heightened penalties on people who buy sex in a bid to reduce demand for sex trafficking.

Other measures aiming to bar pretextual traffic stops, divert younger adults from the adult criminal justice system and overhaul bail died after the House of Representatives failed to give the two-thirds support needed in both chambers to override the vetoes.

The Senate fell just two votes short of overriding a bill from Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, that would have barred companies partially or wholly owned by foreign governments from spending to affect Maine referendums. It was aimed at the Central Maine Power Co. corridor.

BDN writer Caitlin Andrews contributed to this report.