The Texas House passed a bill to increase the criminal penalties for trafficking fentanyl, a priority item Gov. Greg Abbott announced during his State of the State address.
The chamber passed House Bill (HB) 6 on third reading by a vote of 121 to 24. In February, Abbott made the issue an emergency matter on the legislative agenda.
Prior to second reading, bill author Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) pointed out that fentanyl poisoning is a leading cause of death for adults under 45 years old.
“Members, if you have not had a family member die from fentanyl overdose, if you don’t know anyone who’s died from a fentanyl overdose, consider yourself lucky, because you’re in the minority,” Goldman said.
HB 6 would require medical examiners to list “poisoning” as the cause of death and “homicide” as the manner of death for those who die from fentanyl in most cases. It would also make fentanyl trafficking chargeable as murder if it results in someone’s death.
“Fentanyl is coming across our border in record amounts,” Goldman added.
Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) said he understood the “pain and suffering” inflicted by fentanyl, but he said the U.S. already incarcerates too many people.
“What I want to address and my reason for voting against this legislation is not some of the very good things that the bill does but my concern about the ongoing escalation of the drug war,” Wu said.
The Democrat also said he is concerned about the bill’s criminal provisions “disproportionately affecting” racial minorities. He suggested programs to address drug addiction would be more appropriate.
Abbott’s office recently reported the most substantial seizure of fentanyl in a single traffic stop since the beginning of Operation Lone Star, the state’s strategy against illegal immigration and drug trafficking. A state trooper in Mission stopped a Mexican citizen who had 14 pounds of fentanyl in his vehicle, enough to kill more than 3 million people.
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