- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida House has rejected a Senate proposal to loosen mandatory minimum-sentence requirements in a bill that cracks down on synthetic drug traffickers, putting the legislation in jeopardy with only one day left for it to pass.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Jim Boyd, said the purpose of the bill would be defeated without the three-year mandatory minimum sentence for someone caught with at least 4 grams of fentanyl. He said the bill is meant to jail “scumbag” drug dealers, not drug addicts.

“I’m all about the minimum mandatory sentences for users and addicts, but this particular issue - because it is such an epidemic in the state - I just don’t think I can budge,” Boyd said.

The Senate amendment would have given judges the discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences when the circumstances allowed it. By rejecting the compromise, the state may have to wait to see a tougher drug-trafficking statute. The measure called for imprisoning those caught with at least 14 grams of fentanyl for 15 years, and those caught with 28 grams to 25 years.

While all lawmakers agree action is needed to combat the opioid-addiction crisis - including Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a public health state of emergency on Wednesday - legislators were very much divided on whether people caught with at least 4 grams of fentanyl should face mandatory minimum sentences.

Rep. Joseph Geller, a Democrat who supports tougher sanctions for fentanyl traffickers, said he is uncomfortable with mandatory minimums because there are often extenuating circumstances.

“We’ve taken away a valuable tool that judges and prosecutors would have had, and in doing so we’ve put a good bill at risk,” Geller said. “That amendment made it a better policy.”

Boyd, however, said people who are in possession of 4 grams of fentanyl are “not some poor person who needs help.”

Under current state law, there is no criminal penalty for trafficking fentanyl, but the state is bolstering its response to combat the rise in opioid overdoses. The deadly drug can be 100 times more potent than morphine and is often mixed with another drug such as heroin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 the drug was associated with more than 700 deaths in Florida.

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