Senate approves bill that allows prosecutors to indict fentanyl distributors for murder
The bill would also raise the penalty for delivering less than one gram of Fentanyl from a State Jail felony to a Third-degree felony.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Wednesday's Texas Senate unanimously passed a crucial bill in the Legislature's war against opioids. It would increase penalties for the sale and production fentanyl. Overdoses of the drug would be classified as poisonings.
Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would pass Senate Bill 645 to achieve one of Gov. Greg Abbott's legislative priorities include allowing prosecutors to bring charges against people who make, deliver, and sell fentanyl.
The bill would also raise the penalty for delivering or making less than 1 gram fentanyl from a felony state jail to a third-degree felony. The penalty for overdosing on the drug is increased to a second degree felony if the victim dies. Huffman wrote a law in 2021 that increased penalties for manufacturing or shipping more than one gram of Fentanyl.
Huffman, who was introducing her "Combating Fentanyl” bill on Wednesday, said that "we have tragically learned how dangerous fentanyl can be and how even 1 gram is so deadly."It is a fact that fentanyl has reached our borders. It is without doubt killing our citizens every day. It's high time we took a comprehensive approach to this problem."
Abbott and state legislators have taken a tough-on drugs approach to the fentanyl epidemic, primarily pushing for increased criminal penalties. Some drug policy experts have criticized this strategy, arguing that it only criminalizes drug users and does not offer them treatment for addiction.
In other states, the move to charge those who sell or make Fentanyl with murder has backfired. This has led to more overdose deaths and the prosecution of family members and friends who were present at the time the victim took the drug.
The number of overdose deaths from fentanyl in Texas rose by nearly 400%, with 333 people dying in fiscal 2019, compared to 1,662 in fiscal 2021.The CDC predicts that Texas will see more than 5,000 drug overdose deaths between July 2021-2022.
Huffman's bill would also increase penalties for delivering, making, or possessing large amounts of fentanyl. A first-degree felony would include possession of between 200 and 400 grams. This could result in a minimum of 10 years or life imprisonment and a maximum fine up to $100,000.A first-degree felony would also include a minimum of 15 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000.
However, even if the legislation is approved by lawmakers, it could be difficult for law enforcement officers to charge murder suspects. There are many questions surrounding how prosecutors can prove that the person selling or distributing the drug knew they were selling fentanyl. The drug's distributors and sellers are often not the same people who make it.
She said, "It could be that they find that it's easier for them to prosecute under another statute that I passed that would render it a second degree felony. But there could be exceptional cases where it's easy to prosecute and the prosecutor could then have this tool for filing for first-degree felonies."
Huffman made an exception to the law for doctors who prescribe fentanyl. Huffman also amended the law to exclude death certificates from being classified as "fentanyl poisonings". This applies to deaths in which fentanyl has been detected in the body, but another cause of death is present.
Separately, Senate Bill 1319 by Huffman was also approved. This would make it mandatory that law enforcement, first responders, and other emergency responders provide overdose information for a government entity that maintains an electronic overdose mapping system. Many areas use tools such as odmap. org for locating overdose hotspots and deploying resources to them. These programs are supported by many who believe they are necessary to combat overdoses in the state.
Current Texas law states that some state entities are not subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. They can share information about overdoses to help identify hot spots and deploy resources to them. The bill allows emergency responders only to share a small amount of this information without fear of legal retribution.
The bill would allow emergency personnel to share information such as the date and time, exact location, whether an opioid antagonist, like naloxone, was administered, and the outcome of the patient. It does not allow the sharing of victim's personal information.events