February 28

OUR OPINION: Thumbs up, thumbs down

A roundup of the issues making news this week in central Maine

THUMBS UP to a pair of local residents who are putting their lives together after trouble with substance abuse.

Abby Fowler this week became the first participant in a Skowhegan-based alternative sentencing program. Fowler was arrested last year for felony possession of heroin and faced 90 days in jail.

Instead, through the new Alternative Substance Abuse Program, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and can avoid jail if she sticks to the program’s strict treatment and supervision guidelines.

If she can’t, Fowler will be sentenced on the felony and serve at least a year in jail.

If all goes well, Fowler will come out of the program a contributing member of society, and taxpayers will have saved the significant costs of incarceration.

Jeffrey Hayden, of Madison, is now receiving counseling through the VA at Togus following his third OUI charge since returning home from active military duty in 2006.

Hayden, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marines, struggled after he returned to Maine. But he avoided getting help, and turned to alcohol to cope.

His last OUI charge came after he hit a parked vehicle while riding his snowmobile during a storm. It was held up — by police and in this space — as an example of the poor decisionmaking that leads to snowmobile accidents in the Maine winter.

Hayden, who faces 30 days in jail because of the most recent charge, came forward recently to tell his story. In doing so, he put another face to the reports of the challenges endured by veterans coming home from the Middle East, and showed that there is often much more to a story than the initial headline.

THUMBS DOWN to the Arizona legislators that passed a so-called “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians.

Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed the legislation, though she cited the bill’s unintended consequences when legalized discrimination was quite clearly the intention.

The initial version of the bill would have allowed government employees to refuse serving residents based on sexual orientation, though the final version covered only private businesses.

Brewer’s veto came only after the bill’s passage drew nationwide criticism and threatened to harm business interests in the state. A similar bill that passed the Kansas House of Representatives failed in the state Senate after a similar outcry.

Maine had its own religious-freedom bill fail in the Legislature earlier this year, fortunately without the homophobic arguments that were part of the debate in Kansas and Arizona. Unlike Maine, Arizona law does not protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Much was made prior to the Winter Olympics of the treatment of gays and lesbians in Russia. Initiatives like those in Arizona, Kansas and elsewhere show that we have a lot to take care of here, as well.

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