Opioid-crackdown bill picks up potentially deadly amendment in Senate

bracy, randolph

The Senate adopted an amendment Tuesday easing mandatory-minimum prison sentences in a bill cracking down on trafficking in synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil.

Senate President Joe Negron ruled that Sen. Randolph Bracy’s amendment had passed on a voice vote, following an impassioned debate touching on the drugs’ dangers and the damage minimum-mandatory sentencing has done to communities.

The amended legislation awaits a final vote.

“Man, this was one of my noncontroversial bills that I filed this session,” Senate sponsor Greg Steube said.

He said he was willing to address the sentencing issue with Bracy, but warned that the amendment would endanger his bill.

“Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than morphine. That’s what we’re talking about here,” Steube said.

“The other piece of this is, we’re in Tuesday of the last week in session, and if an amendment goes on, I don’t know if the House is going to be willing to take it up,” he said.

Bracy argued that defendants typically never knew they’d dealt in substances containing the targeted drugs.

“For us to send someone to prison for possibly 25 years, when they have no idea what is in this drug, I think is wrong,” he said.

HB 477 targets fentanyl and related substances that, when administered by themselves or in combination with other drugs, can prove deadly, for tougher sentencing. For example, it would add fentanyl and derivatives to the list of Schedule I drugs and provides that trafficking in them resulting in death constitutes murder.

Bracy’s amendment would give judges discretion to depart from minimum sentences. Under the original language, for example, possession of less than 14 grams of fentanyl would bring at least three years in prison; up to 28 grams would bring 15; and and 28 or more grams would bring 25.

Bracy said he’d agreed to hear the bill in his Criminal Justice Committee contingent on giving judges sentencing discretion.

But Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said he’d reinstated the mandatory penalties in his own committee, citing the seriousness of Florida’s opioid crisis.

Support for the amendment crossed party lines. Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes argued that judges need the same discretion in sentencing prosecutors hold in charging drug crimes.

“We’re not asking for anything radical,” Brandes said. “We’re asking for something that people do every day as prosecutors, to give that same exact authority to judges who are independent third parties who are supposed to oversee this process and make sure that travesties of justice don’t occur.”

A number of senators said they’d changed their minds about the wisdom of mandatory-minimum sentencing, including Democrat Darryl Rouson and Republican Rene Garcia. “Drug addition shouldn’t be a crime. It’s an illness,” Garcia said.

“I do trust our judges,” Sen. Kelli Stargel said, arguing against the amendment, but “this drug is killing people.”

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.


  • Kendra

    May 2, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Your headline is quite ambiguous. Do you mean deadly to the bill or to the public? Because mandatory minimums do not work, divest judgment of appropriate discretion, and clog out prisons up unnecessarily. They have devastated communities in this state, and it’s ludicrous that any lawmakers would think that doubling down on them now is the right thing to do.

    What it shows is that these people still don’t understand opioid addiction: this people are NOT MAKING RATIONAL DECISIONS. They are not going to look at mandatory minimums, or any sentence, and think, “hmm, I better not do this.” They will do it even if they suspect they risk dying from it (and synthetic opioids are essentially precisely the same, except stronger, and it’s exceedingly easy to get hit with a “manufacturing” charge for tinkering around with your current supply to get an extra high). They will do it ESPECIALLY if they think they’re going to die from it.

    Imposing insanely long sentences 1.) ignores that this is a health issue; 2.) costs an enormous amount, both directly and in terms of costs to the community; 3.) destroys lives, including family members’ lives; 4.) diverts money away from treatment and into the criminal justice system, where people never get better but instead get effectively life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. This is insanity.

    How many times does this statistic have to come up: the US hold a QUARTER of the WORLD’s prisoners. We cannot keep incarcerating our way out of the problem. It has never worked. Yes, you morons, people are dying from it. Know the way to curb that? Treatment, medication-assisted therapy like suboxone, and moving away from the criminalization of a health problem.

    • Kendra

      May 2, 2017 at 11:59 am

      “divest judges of appropriate discretion, and clog our prisons up unnecessarily”

      Need an “edit” function on these pages.

  • Janet Colbert

    May 2, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Meanwhile, HB 557 and SB 840 limiting opiate prescribing during the acute phase of an illness 5 day cap was amended by Senator Clemens deleting the limited opiate prescribing. Deaths from oxycodone (prescribed opiate) increase by 20.2% per ME data. Our legislators need to take some action not just talk about how bad this epidemic is. Why isn’t our governor and AG pushing for the bill to limit opiate prescribing. What is wrong with the Senate Presiden Joe Negron. Pass one more amendment to this bill – put opiate prescribing limit back in

    • Kendra

      May 2, 2017 at 12:23 pm

      These legislators will not do anything to prevent the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to addict individuals. These meds are a cash cow – the gift that keeps giving, particularly here in Florida. Remember when Governor Scott came on and refused to implement a PDMP (prescription drug monitoring program)? He’s tied to the industry along with the rest of the Republicans (and some Dems). They’re so easily bought and sold for campaign contributions.

      They think they can skirt it by imposing mandatory minimums. It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragically stupid and short-sighted. I hear a lot of people crying out that you can’t put limits on opioid prescribing because some people legitimately need it. That might be true, but the people who should appropriately be prescribed opioids long-term are a pretty select bunch. Cancer patients, some other terminal illnesses. Opioids long-term almost inevitably lead to dependence, the need for higher doses, and eventual ineffectiveness combined with addiction, so there is only a narrow set of illnesses for which it should be prescribed longer than a few days. That can be easily accounted for in the bill.

      They won’t do it.

Comments are closed.


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