An amendment that would have held drug dealers accountable for fentanyl deaths was rejected by the Senate on Wednesday.
Assembly Bill 2195, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would amend the penal code to creative an alternative plea for those charged with drug offenses to a charge of public nuisance. Specifically, AB 2195, also known as the Alternative Plea Act, would deal with charges that allege unlawfully cultivating, manufacturing, transporting, giving away, selling, or possession or use of a drug, or possession or use of drug paraphernalia.
Those with charges of one or more drug infractions would instead have a single public nuisance infraction under the bill. Similarly, those with drug misdemeanor charges would have it changed to a public nuisance misdemeanor or infraction. And those with felony drug charges would see it changed to a public nuisance felony or misdemeanor. According to the bill, the overall aim is to protect immigrants and residents from facing lifelong consequences for their drug charges and to avoid separating families as a result. Court resources and costs would also be lowered due to early resolution of cases.
Not all drug cases would have the proposed law applied. Prosecutors would only apply it on a case-by-case basis and only if the defense counsel asks for it.
Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer wrote the bill to avoid separating families on drug convictions and protect those who face lifelong repercussions for the drug charge in question, including extended jail time and difficulties in finding housing, work, and other needs.
“AB 2195 will protect Californians from the lasting collateral consequences of drug convictions by allowing prosecutors with the discretion to offer an alternative plea,” Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer said earlier this year. “This is an efficient and appropriate mechanism to protect immigrants and other state residents facing drug convictions and facing lifelong consequences.”
When introduced earlier this year, the bill faced stiff opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, who strongly opposed it due to not only letting criminals get a much softer charge replace their drug charge, but possibly seen a lower sentence as a result too.
“A lot of Assemblymembers and Senators were disgusted by it. Still are too,” explained “Dana,” a state capitol staffer, to the Globe on Wednesday. “Some had been speaking to victims of drug crimes and you could see it on their faces just how much this bill would negatively rock their world. These people charged with drug crimes didn’t care about the consequences, and after being caught, don’t have to own up fully to them. To those victims and people wanting to see justice, they see the people supporting this as monsters. And I’m actually quoting a victim on that.”
An attempted amendment to a polarizing bill
The polarizing bill narrowly passed the Assembly 43-24 in May with 11 abstentions, with a solid Republican and some Democrat bloc in opposition. The the Senate ordering it to more readings, many against the bill have tried to pause or mitigate damage of the bill, including an amendment put forward by Senator Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) on Wednesday. The amendment, also known as Alexandra’s Law, which notify convicted drug dealers that should they be convicted again and kill someone, prosecutors may charge them with manslaughter or murder. According to Melendez, this would help hold drug dealers accountable for any deaths involved, specifically those in connection with fentanyl.
“These drug dealers are poisoning our children,” said Senator Melendez. “We have people who are dying from fentanyl poisoning never to see their families again. I have tried to get this passed three separate times with no success and I don’t know how much longer we have to wait until we actually do something about this.”
However, Senate Democrats soundly rejected the amendment, leading to a likely Senate vote on the matter within the next week.
AB 2195 is expected to face yet another polarizing vote in the Senate. Should it pass, the bill will go directly to Governor Newsom to either sign or veto.
“Newsom right now is gearing up for a more national presence,” added Dana. “If the bill reaches him, he will definitely think twice about signing the bill, because the repercussions from signing it would be big, especially if he needs to defend his crime record. Signing a bill that severely lowers drug charges like this wouldn’t exactly be seen as favorable.”
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