Democrats on a Senate committee declined to advance a bipartisan proposal to require written warnings for dealers who knowingly distribute drugs containing fentanyl that results in someone’s death, frustrating advocates who want to see increased accountability for a crisis that kills thousands of Americans every month.
Matt Capelouto, whose daughter is the namesake for the bipartisan bill known as “Alexandra’s Law,” shouted at lawmakers during the hearing, accusing them of “making every excuse for drug dealers” before storming out with other parents when it became clear the bill would not pass.
“Every year the deaths keep going up and up, and every year this committee — the [Senate] Public Safety Committee, of all names — comes up with excuse after excuse after excuse to not hold fentanyl dealers accountable,” Capelouto said in an interview after the bill’s hearing.
Caplouto’s daughter Alex died in 2019 after taking a fentanyl-laced pill she believed was oxycodone. He has traveled from his home in Riverside County multiple times to advocate for the bill, including its previous versions.
Now, he and a group of other advocates who have lost family members to fentanyl overdoses are considering a ballot initiative.
“If our Senators won’t pass this, we’ll take it to the people,” he said. “There are more and more victims every day and Californians are fed up.”
Nearly 6,000 Californians died from fentanyl overdose in 2021, about 83% of all opioid-related deaths that year, according to data from the state public health department.
It mirrors a nationwide trend of skyrocketing deaths from the synthetic opiate, which police say has become more widespread in recent years because it is cheaper for drug cartels to make and sell. It’s also more deadly.
National Institute of Health
With legislative deadlines approaching, the defeat of Alexandra’s Law means it is likely finished for the year.
The bill’s author, Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) said in a statement he was “stunned” by the vote.
“It’s discouraging that my colleagues don’t see the reality of the epidemic and the benefit of stopping repeat fentanyl dealers,” he said, adding that he would continue to work on the issue.
Many Democrats on the two legislative committees that deal with public safety issues are hesitant to increase criminal penalties and repeat what they call mistakes from a failed war on drugs.
Before Capelouto and others left the room, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), attempted to acknowledge their anger.
“I know everyone here is frustrated and feels we are blocking something that would … limit overdose deaths,” she said. “The concern is there is no real evidence that this would in fact limit overdose deaths.”
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) argued the bill would have unintended consequences for people who may not know they are giving or selling fentanyl, including college students.
“This bill does not require you to have even the slightest indication that you know there was fentanyl” in a drug that was sold, transported or furnished, Wiener said, adding it could result in a “legally consequential warning” forever on a person’s record.
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom, asking him to back some bills that would increase penalties for crimes involving fentanyl, including if the drug results in a death or for selling it on social media.
The letter points to Newsom’s previous involvement to get climate and mental health measures passed.
“Your voice has tremendous influence, especially with our colleagues across the aisle,” it reads. “We are asking for this same level of engagement with the bipartisan effort to address California’s fentanyl crisis.”
The Assembly’s public safety committee has also blocked bills that would tighten criminal penalties for fentanyl. After bipartisan pressure, Chairperson Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) agreed to move up a special hearing focused on the issue to Thursday, April 27.
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