Fentanyl crackdown advances in House

Drug box of  Fentanyl containing fentanil for treatment of sever
Jessica Baker's bill has 1 stop to go before the House floor.

A Jacksonville Republican’s bid to impose hard time on those who expose first responders to fentanyl is moving through House committees, with one stop remaining before the House floor after a vote by the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Jessica Baker’s legislation (HB 231) contemplates felony penalties for “persons who unlawfully and intentionally possess specified controlled substances or mixtures and who expose law enforcement officers and others who are acting in their official capacity to such substances or mixtures and causing serious injury.”

The bill would protect corrections officers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics should it become law.

Baker explained that recent years have brought “a reported increase in law enforcement and first responders having symptoms due to exposure to fentanyl,” with Narcan being required “to reverse the life-threatening effects.”

“This bill makes sure that individuals that put our first responders at risk are held accountable for their actions. This bill seeks to protect our first responders by creating a criminal penalty if a person 18 years or older is unlawfully in possession of fentanyl, exposes a first responder to the fentanyl, and an overdose or serious bodily injury of the first responder results,” she added.

Per the bill, guilty parties “must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years. If the injury sustained results in death or great bodily harm, the person commits a felony of the first degree … and, upon conviction thereof, must be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 30 years,” the bill notes.

A committee analysis of the legislation clarifies that it “provides an affirmative defense from prosecution if the first responder acted so far outside of the scope of ordinary care generally exercised by a member of his or her profession that he or she caused or substantially contributed to the exposure.”

During the hearing, police Corporal Robert Palmer spoke in favor of the bill, noting that last year he’d been exposed to fentanyl in the line of duty.

The Collier County officer needed Narcan twice to be “brought back to life,” after responding to a domestic violence call in an apartment complex and hauling one of the parties’ possessions downstairs.

Symptoms set in quickly, Palmer noted, and he realized he’d been exposed to fentanyl or “some strong narcotic.” He went to the emergency room and was discharged within hours, but the effects lingered for days, and these included fogginess and amnesia.

“The best way I can describe it is almost like a stroke victim,” Palmer said.

Support wasn’t unanimous, of course, with the bill advancing by a 9-2 vote.

Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a criminal defense lawyer by trade, noted that some fentanyl use may be unintentional, and that the bill could also punish “addicts” without a “deterrent effect.”

“It’s not something they intended,” the Broward County Democrat said, adding that the lack of testing for the first responders could create a plausible defense for arrestees.

Baker noted in close the considerable likelihood of circumstances where suspect could “harm a first responder,” and suggested “prosecutorial discretion” would mitigate the maximum charges in some cases.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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