California advances fentanyl bills on prevention, increased penalties

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By TRÂN NGUYỄN and ADAM BEAM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers advanced more than a dozen bills aiming to address the fentanyl crisis, including some that would impose harsher prison sentences for dealers, ahead of a critical deadline this week.

Legislators in the Assembly and Senate are bulldozing through several hundred pieces of legislation this week before the Friday deadline — the last day a bill could pass out of its original chamber and get a chance to become law later this year.

Fentanyl overdoses are killing roughly 110 Californians each week, and lawmakers are divided on how best to stem the crisis.

Some Democratic lawmakers support policies that focus on education, prevention and treatment, while Republicans and more moderate Democrats want more enforcement against fentanyl dealers.

State lawmakers across the country, including in Democratic-controlled legislatures such as Oregon and Nevada, have also considered harsher penalties on drug dealers — a tactic that many advocates for harm reduction say would backfire.

But the majority of 16 fentanyl bills that advanced this past week in California focused on education, prevention and treatment of fentanyl overdose.

One would require public places like schools, stadiums and concert venues to carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses. States that have made naloxone accessible, such as Massachusetts, are seeing a drop in overdose deaths, said Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino of Burbank, who authored the bill.

“Our schools and other impacted places must have the tools needed to save lives, and parents should not have to worry if emergency treatments are available to help in the moment of crisis,” Portantino said in a statement.

Lawmakers in the Assembly also passed a bill that would increase penalties for dealers for possessing more than 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fentanyl. Republican and moderate Democrats have authored other public safety bills aiming to impose harsher sentences, but many of those didn’t make it out of committees.

“While we continue to provide resources for drug treatment and education, we cannot neglect the trafficking that spreads this poison throughout our community,” Democratic Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua, who authored the bill, said in a statement. “One pill does kill; it only takes one time.”

Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher, a vocal critic of his progressive Democratic colleagues on the fentanyl issue, said passing the bills is “a step in the right direction.”

“Still, more needs to be done,” he said in a statement. “Without accountability for those selling poison in our communities, the killing is going to continue.”

The bills will now head to the second house.

Here’s a look at other actions taken by lawmakers:

HUMANS IN SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS

The state Assembly passed a bill that would require human drivers in self-driving trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds. The bill is a priority for labor unions, who worry drivers could lose their jobs. The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, said the primary purpose was to keep people safe. Republican Assemblyman Josh Hoover opposed the bill, arguing it would make it harder to develop the self-driving technology. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

HPV VACCINES IN SCHOOLS

The state Assembly passed a bill that would require school districts to tell students they are expected to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. The bill does not require students to be vaccinated to attend school. Republican Assemblymember Joe Patterson opposed the bill, saying parents should discuss the HPV vaccine with doctors instead of school officials. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

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