Democratic state senators in California shot down a bipartisan bill that sought to toughen penalties for fentanyl traffickers. The left-wing legislators justified their vote by pointing out that they prefer to bet on "prevention, treatment and education policies" as opposed to initiatives focused on "how we can fill up the prisons again.”
Fentanyl caused more than 6,000 overdose deaths in The Golden State in 2021. These numbers, coupled with the border crisis and the increased activities of Mexican cartels, prompted Republican lawmakers, along with some moderate Democrats, to seek a joint bill to address the problem by toughening the punishment.
Rehabilitation vs. harsher penalties
However, far-left Democrats are radically opposed to seeking a solution that involves stricter judicial measures. Moreover, these legislators have been amending the state criminal code for a decade by promoting treatment and rehabilitation over lengthy prison sentences. Among the reasons given is the protection of black and brown communities.
The bill was not particularly harsh. It served to warn convicted fentanyl traffickers that they could face manslaughter charges if they were caught selling the drug again. Democratic California Sen. Tom Umberg expressed frustration after the bill was rejected and called for reconsideration so it could get another vote relatively soon. "Fentanyl is causing an unbelievable number of deaths and the trajectory is, unfortunately, headed in the wrong direction," he lamented.
I'm sorry to relay that #SB44 #AlexandrasLaw failed in Committee earlier today.
I'm not happy, but I'm also not giving up. Stay tuned here for more in the coming weeks! pic.twitter.com/A6iCTgPh5C
— Senator Tom Umberg (@SenatorUmberg) March 29, 2023
Thousands of black and brown people incarcerated in the 1980s and 1990s
Republican Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa, co-author of the bill, was "heartbroken" by the defeat. "Make no mistake. A policy like SB 44 would make all the difference," she told the Los Angeles Times.
To justify the "no" vote, Sen. Steven Bradford argued that the rule reminded him of the tough-on-crime era of the 1980s and 1990s, which resulted in thousands of black and brown people being sentenced to life in prison. "Facilitating prosecution for murder will not address or solve this problem," he remarked.
State Assembly also blocks these rules
Democratic legislators also blocked initiatives in this regard in the California Assembly. Public Safety Committee Chairman Reginald Jones-Sawyer filed several bills pending hearing. Jones-Sawyer justified his position based on his personal experience: "I was around during the crack cocaine epidemic, and this is really very similar to the hysteria around crack cocaine. We rushed to come up with a solution, instead of looking at it from both a public health crisis and a public safety crisis and to bring them both together." This mistake, he said, is one he is not willing to allow to happen again.
For the time being, the assemblyman has postponed the deliberation of bills dealing with the stiffening of penalties until fall. In addition, they would be evaluated in an informal committee session, something that has not gone down well with other Democrats such as Brian Maienschein, who introduced an initiative to increase criminal penalties for those who sell, supply, administer or give away fentanyl products that cause serious bodily injury.
Victims' families outraged
The Senate hearing, which was open to people who lost loved ones as a result of a fentanyl overdose, was attended by Matt Capelouto, father of the child for whom the bill is named, Alexandra. The young woman died at the age of 20 after ingesting a pill of the opioid she had purchased via Snapchat. After the hearing. Capelouto exploded:
What are the politicians of the Public Safety Committee, the people charged with protecting the lives and livelihoods of their constituents, actually doing? What are they doing about the drug dealers, the people responsible for knowingly jeopardizing the lives of the people they trade dollars for death to?” Capelouto said after the hearing. I’ll tell you what they’re doing: Nothing.