Fentanyl crisis

What could have been a dramatic showdown this week, orchestrated by Republican legislators demanding action on bills addressing California’s fentanyl crisis, was ultimately avoided with a deal for a special hearing next week.

In March, the chairperson of the Assembly public safety committee, Los Angeles Democrat Reggie Jones-Sawyer, announced that the committee would put a hold on all fentanyl-related measures. At the time, he cited “duplicative efforts” and “temporary solutions” that provided no “rational solutions at all.”

That move put several bills to increase penalties or expand treatment— authored by Republicans but also some Democrats — in limbo, and weeks ticked by with no clear timeline of when they would be reconsidered again. To put pressure on the committee, Republican legislators and district attorneys, joined by residents whose family members died from fentanyl overdoses, held a rally on Tuesday, April 18 near the state Capitol.

On Wednesday — the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom made a surprise visit to San Francisco’s Tenderloin district to discuss the fentanyl crisis with Attorney General Rob Bonta and Mayor London Breed — Republicans announced they would move to withdraw five fentanyl measures from the committee and try to force votes Thursday on the Assembly floor. Four of the five are authored by Democrats, including one that would enhance sentencing for fentanyl-related deaths from San Diego Assemblymember Brian Maienschein. (In March, he publicly with the move by Jones-Sawyer.)

Thursday, just before the floor session, legislators avoided the floor fight by agreeing to , plus a sixth one, at a special committee hearing on April 27. Republicans considered it a big win, and a few Democrats reacted in favor.

Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher of Chico said in a statement: “I’m glad my Democratic colleagues finally recognized that a months-long delay in addressing the fentanyl crisis is not acceptable…. We’re making progress, but we will not rest until this poison is out of our communities and the killing spree ends.”

The statement also included an expression of support from Natalie Page , who spoke earlier this week at the State Capitol and is the sister of a 36-year-old father who lost his life to fentanyl.

The time to act is now and I am happy to hear that there is a renewed sense of urgency at the State Capitol. We must stop enabling and hold dealers accountable for spreading this poison in our communities. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. And I am hopeful that lawmakers will advance legislation at the hearing next week,” said Page .

Democrats said they were also eager to move on the subject.

“My colleagues and I are working to treat this crisis with the urgency it requires,” said Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris, an Irvine Democrat, in a statement. These bills deserve a hearing so that they may continue to proceed along the legislative process.”

While Santa Monica’s local Assemblymember, Rick Chavez Zbur, wasn’t a sponsor of the disputed bills, he said he will be studying the proposals in advance of the vote next week.

“The crisis of fentanyl is heartbreaking, and we must do more to address its devastating effects,” he said. “I will be carefully analyzing these bills to ensure that they protect our communities in an equitable way.”

In response, Jones-Sawyer said that because there wasn’t initially “enough time to properly discuss this crisis,” he wanted to hold a hearing later.

“I wanted to… ensure we could have more stakeholders in the room and give space to allow victims’ families sufficient time to be heard beyond the boundaries of the customary bill hearing. This is exactly what I will do…. I look forward to our public hearing on fentanyl so that we as a legislative body can learn from experts and craft policies that protect Californians and properly punish suppliers,” he said in an emailed statement to CalMatters.

The bills in question are:

  • AB 33 (Jasmeet Bains) – to establish a Fentanyl Addiction and Overdose Prevention Task Force.
  • AB 367 (Brian Maienschein) – add a sentencing enhancement for fentanyl dealers who kill or seriously injure people they sell the drug to.
  • AB 474 (Freddie Rodriguez) – prioritize cooperation between state and local law enforcement to disrupt fentanyl trafficking organizations.
  • AB 675 (Esmeralda Soria) – prohibit carrying a gun while in possession of fentanyl.
  • AB 955 (Cottie Petrie-Norris) – increase penalties for fentanyl dealers who sell on social media.
  • AB 1058 (Jim Patterson) – increase penalties for those possessing large quantities of fentanyl.

Lynn La

Special to the Daily Press

Additional reporting by SMDP Staff.