The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that many legislators hope will save lives.
House Bill 215, or Dalton’s Law, would make importing fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives from another state or country a Class C felony. Those convicted of importing fentanyl would be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence and would not be eligible for pretrial diversion under this bill.
HB 215 would also block those guilty of aggravated trafficking of fentanyl, carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives from pretrial diversion and require them to serve at least 85% of their sentence. Aggravated trafficking is defined in the bill as someone who traffics 28 grams or more of fentanyl or 10 grams or more of carfentanil or fentanyl derivatives.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies, said drug overdose deaths in the Commonwealth rose 56% last year, and the majority of those deaths were due to fentanyl.
“This drug is not just destroying lives and families,” Fugate said. “It’s taking lives and its killing people all over the state of Kentucky and really across the United States.”
Fugate and Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said the intention of HB 215 is to target fentanyl traffickers, not users. By targeting traffickers who are lacing other drugs like marijuana and heroin with fentanyl, hopefully lives will be saved.
Riley shared the story of 22-year-old Dalton Bishop of Glasgow on the House floor. Bishop, who suffered from substance use disorder, died of an overdose in 2020 after he used drugs he did not realize were laced with fentanyl. HB 215 is named Dalton’s Law in his honor.
“I know the sponsor of this bill has put in here that there will be rehab for abusers, but there will be punishment for traffickers,” Riley said. “Unfortunately, Dalton will not have a chance to go through rehab.”
Several lawmakers expressed concerns that the bill will inadvertently target those with substance use disorder who sell drugs in order to support their habit. House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, said she’s learned from those recovering from substance use disorder that investing in treatment is the better option.
“What I have learned is that increased penalties and incarceration don’t move the needle,” Jenkins said. “They’re very expensive for us as a state, and we are incarcerating people for many, many years without getting the bang for our buck. What we know works is treatment.”
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, agreed with Jenkins and said she was voting “no” on HB 215. Marzian called for the legislature to invest in good jobs, good schools, universal pre-k and other things that she believes would help prevent people from doing drugs in the first place.
“Locking people up is not the answer,” Marzian said.
Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, spoke in support of HB 215. He said the General Assembly has made “a great effort” to make treatment a priority over the last several years, but this bill focuses on the traffickers.
“These are people that put money above the welfare of everybody else that they deal with,” Petrie said. “That is a scourge on the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I can’t think of much worse to be honest with you.”
House Minority Whip Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, also spoke in favor of HB 215. She said she believes the bill narrowly targets drug dealers and will bring the state a step closer to getting fentanyl off the streets.
The House approved HB 215 by an 82-12 vote. It will now go before the Senate for consideration.
“I believe in treatment. I believe in rehab, but I have no sympathy for people that bring poison to the streets and hollers of Kentucky,” Fugate said. “No sympathy— and they need to go to prison for a long time.”