California lawmakers have 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 debated measures on Wednesday as they tried to wrap up several hundred pieces of legislation before Friday — the last day a bill can 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, officials said, 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 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 such as 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 chamber.
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 weighing 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 can lead to 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.
STREAMLINING THE HOUSING PERMITTING PROCESS
The state Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the expiration of a landmark housing law to streamline construction in cities that have not met the state-mandated housing goals. Since the original bill took effect in 2018, it has helped fast-track 18,000 homes, with roughly 75% of them being affordable housing. The new bill would also remove the requirement to hire “skilled and trained workers,” which could limit who could be hired for those projects. The bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, opted for a prevailing wage in the new bill instead — a move that angers several powerful trade unions. The bill, one of the most contentious pieces of housing legislation this year, passed with bipartisan support. The bill now heads to the state Assembly.
FREE CONDOMS IN SCHOOLS
The state Senate passed legislation requiring that free condoms be made available at all public high schools in the state. Democratic state Sen. Caroline Menjivar, who authored the bill, hopes it will help prevent sexually transmitted infections among teens. The bill would also ban stores from making someone prove their age before selling condoms to them. Vermont passed legislation in recent years requiring schools to have free condoms available for middle and high school students. The bill now heads to the state Assembly.
RAISING MINIMUM WAGE FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS
The state Senate passed a bill that would bring the minimum wage for health care workers to $25 an hour by 2025. The contentious bill would give medical assistants, nursing home caregivers and others a fair and livable wage, said the bill’s author, Democratic Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. The bill faces fierce opposition from hospitals and some local jurisdictions that said the increased minimum wage would result in higher health insurance premiums, more costs to hospitals and potentially cutbacks on services. The bill now heads to the state Assembly.
TRÂN NGUYỄN, ADAM BEAM and SOPHIE AUSTIN, Associated Press