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Lawmakers, families call out public safety committees for lack of fentanyl legislation
fentanyl legislation press conference
Laura Didier of Rocklin speaks about the sudden death of her teenaged son, Zach, in 2020 from one fentanyl pill — a story she said was all too common across California (Photo contributed).

Grieving families, public safety officials and state lawmakers — including local Assemblymember Juan Alanis — gathered at the State Capitol on Tuesday to demand action on the California fentanyl crisis.

“We all know we have a crisis on our hands that is plaguing our communities throughout California, and it’s fentanyl. It’s poisoning our kids; it’s killing far too many Californians — 110 people a week are now dying of fentanyl overdoses — but we’ve seen no action from this legislature. This is unacceptable. Public safety committees on both sides of the houses are refusing to hear bills, killing good bills with bipartisan support. And for years, we’ve been calling for action to see nothing happen. Today, we’re calling for action; we’re urging action, for immediate action that is needed for this scourge that is upon our communities,” said Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City).

State Senate Minority Caucus Chair Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach) reiterated that California is in a crisis because of fentanyl and cited four Senate bills that haven’t made it out of committee that would see harsher penalties for those found producing and selling fentanyl and create a task force to study the issue.

“Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for young adults across the United States, surpassing suicides, gun violence and car accidents. This crisis demands immediate attention and action,” said Nguyen.

The bills that Nguyen referenced include:

·         SB 62 — This bill would impose an additional term, and authorizes a fine against, a defendant who is convicted of possessing for sale or purchasing for purposes of sale a substance containing fentanyl.

·         SB 44 — This bill would first warn and then punish drug dealers who traffic in fentanyl in a manner that results in death.

·         SB 237 — This bill would punish the possession, sale, or purchase for sale of fentanyl by imprisonment in a county jail for 4, 5, or 6 years, the transportation, importation, sale, furnishing, administering, or giving away of fentanyl by imprisonment in a county jail for 7, 8, or 9 years, and the trafficking of fentanyl by imprisonment in a county jail for 7, 10, or 13 years.

·         SB 19 — This bill would prohibit a person from possessing for sale or purchasing for purposes of sale, specified controlled substances, including fentanyl, and provides for imprisonment in a county jail for 2, 3, or 4 years for a violation of this provision.

“I’m a former local and federal prosecutor and I’ve unfortunately seen this crisis up-front and personal. Crisis is an understatement. Our kids are dying. The days of recreational drug use are over. One pill can kill and we need to start acting and treating this issue differently than it’s ever been treated before. Our kids are dying and for the chairmen of the public safety committees of the assembly and senate to sit on these bills is unconscionable and a dereliction of duty,” said Assemblyman Bill Essayli (R-Riverside).

While legislators cited facts about the fentanyl crisis and called upon their colleagues to work together to pass legislation, the press conference also included first-hand accounts from families who were affected by fentanyl.

Laura Didier of Rocklin spoke about the sudden death of her teenaged son, Zach, a story she said was all too common across California.

“Zach was an incredible young man. He was only 17 when a counterfeit pill made of fentanyl killed him on Dec. 27 of 2020. The last day I saw my son alive was Christmas. I never imagined two days later I would see him wheeled out of his home in a body bag by the coroner. Zach had no history with abusing drugs. He had no medical issues. There were no drugs in his room. It was such a mystery why he died at his desk two days after Christmas…Families should not be dealing with this. This is a new crisis. It requires all of us working together to solve it. My son’s story is so common. I know so many parents in our state whose stories are so similar,” said Didier.

Matt Capelouto, father of his 20-year-old daughter Alexandra who lost her life to fentanyl and founder of advocate group Drug Induced, said he has been telling his story for the past three years and trying to get legislation passed to stop fentanyl dealers from continuing to sell pills with no consequences.

Alexandra’s Law, SB 44. would require the court to advise a person who is convicted of, or who pleads guilty or no contest to, the above crimes, as specified, of the danger of selling or administering illicit drugs and counterfeit pills and that, if a person dies as a result of that action, the defendant can be charged with homicide. The bill would require the court to read the advisory statement in a case in which the defendant exchanged a controlled substance containing fentanyl or its analogs for anything else of value, as specified. The bill would require the advisory statement to be included in a plea form, if used, and specified on the record. The bill would require that the fact the advisory was given be recorded in the abstract of conviction and would prohibit the advisement from being used as evidence in the prosecution of a minor in juvenile court.

“I have been here three times to support bills going before this committee. The last one, SB 44, just a couple of weeks ago. Alexandra’s Law was widely supported by the majority of our legislators in Sacramento. We had unprecedented supported with leaders in communities and organizations from all over the state putting their good names and reputations on the line to do something about an epidemic ravaging our communities. Why? Because California has the highest number of fentanyl deaths in the nation with no serious consequences for fentanyl dealers,” said Capelouto.

“Only about 1% of drug deaths result in the conviction of a drug dealer. That’s unacceptable. Our state laws, or lack thereof, turn drug dealers into death dealers and with no laws in place to stop them, we have turned fentanyl dealers into serial killers.”

The press conference included a large dump truck capable of holding 28,000 pounds, roughly the same weight of fentanyl that was seized by law enforcement in California last year and vials of inert materials representative of enough fentanyl to kill 1,000 people.