Louisiana lawmakers seek increased penalties for fentanyl dealers
Fentanyl is now the leading killer for 18 to 45 year olds in the United States, with a tenth of a gram a lethal dose.
Two competing bills to increase penalties for fentanyl dealers and manufacturers are slated for debate on the House floor next week after clearing the criminal justice committee.
The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice voted 12-1 to approve House Bill 90, sponsored by Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, to impose a sentence of mandatory life in prison for anyone who possesses more than an ounce of fentanyl or carfentanil in aggregate.
"It’s become such a problem across this state and across this country that we need to send a very strong and clear message that if you’re distributing these types of drugs you intend to kill people, and you’re going to face the requisite penalty for that," Stefanski said. "This is really targeted at the guys who are bringing it into our state or at a manufacturing facility that’s cutting it."
Stefanski and other highlighted the fact that fentanyl is now the leading killer for 18 to 45 year olds in the United States, with a tenth of a gram a lethal dose.
The committee also voted unanimously to approve with one abstention HB 75, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, that takes a tiered approach to increasing the current punishment of a minimum of five to 40 years in prison, and fine of up to $50,000.
HB 75, like HB 90, would keep the current penalty for possession of less than an ounce, but would increase the penalty for possession of between an ounce and 250 grams to a minimum of 10 to 40 years in prison, and for a minimum of 30 to 40 years for more than that.
Villio’s bill also provides increased penalties for subsequent convictions, up to 99 years without parole for a third offense. Subsequent offenses would also come with a fine of up to $500,000, if approved.
"This is our most urgent public health crisis," Villio said, with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, also testifying support of increased penalties.
"This is really important," Schexnayder said. "These are the types of things we should be addressing every day."
HB 75 is backed by every member of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, families of overdose victims, the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, and others. Opponents include the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, Louisiana Trans Advocates, ACLU of Louisiana, VOTE, and Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Most of the same groups lined up for and against HB 90, as well.
Concerns from opponents centered on expanding life without parole in HB 90, and concerns with both bills about unintended consequences for drug users who could inadvertently possess other drugs laced with fentanyl that could trigger the thresholds in the bills.
Other legislation considered in the committee included HB 24, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans, to legalize marijuana. Newell cited taxes generated from legalization in Washington, D.C., which she said is now at $600 million.
"What could Louisiana do with that increase in our tax funding?" she said.
Advocacy groups supported the measure, while law enforcement officials and district attorneys opposed it. Committee members ultimately voted 9-4 to involuntarily defer HB 24, preventing it from moving to the House floor.
HB 75 and HB 90 are now scheduled for a debate on the House floor on Tuesday.