Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law tough, new minimum mandatory prison sentences for people cought with more than 4 grams of deadly fentanyl or carfentanil.
The measure (HB 477), which passed in the final days of the legislative session, is meant to target drug traffickers and curb the opioid epidemic that is sweeping through parts of the state.
It was one of 28 bills Scott signed Wednesday.
“This legislation was my top priority this session — because it gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools we need to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and save lives," Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.
Beginning this October, judges will be bound to sentence people posessing 4 grams of fentanyl to three years in prison, 14 grams to 15 years in prison and 28 grams to 25 years in prison. These minimum sentences are meant to criminalize traffickers of fentanyl, which in recent years has grown to be one of the most prominent opioid killers in Florida.
In the first half of 2016 alone, fentanyl and potent analogs like carfentanyl killed 853 poeple in Florida and contributed to 135 more deaths, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
The bill Scott signed drew some controversy, however, because it institutes mandatory minimums.
Opponents in the Legislature wanted to give judges more discretion in extreme cases when it appeared someone may not realize how much fentanyl they had or even that they had it at all.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, warned that the way the bill was written, a few grams of carfentanil mixed in a water bottle could put someone behind bars for 25 years. Someone thinking they just had a few grams would be facing signficant time in prison unknowingly he argued.
“Addicts have no idea what they are buying,” he said.
The other 27 bills Scott signed late Wednesday were as follows (descriptions courtesy of Scott's office):
HB 371: Assistive Technology Devices – This bill allows students to take home their assistive technology devices.
HB 377: Limitations on Actions other than for the Recovery of Real Property – This bill clarifies the statute of repose by defining the date of completion for certain contracted services.
HB 379: Underground Facilities – This bill expands the reporting requirements for underground facility operators.
HB 397: Public Records/Victim of Alleged Sexual Harassment/ Identifying Information – This bill creates a public records exemption for identifying information of state employees who file sexual harassment complaints.
HB 421: Public Housing Authority Insurance – This bill allows a business owned by public housing authorities to join a self-insurance fund.
HB 455: Tax Exemptions for First Responders and Surviving Spouses – This bill creates a property tax exemption for first responders permanently disabled in the line of duty and the surviving spouse of first responders killed in the line of duty.
HB 465: Firefighters – This bill creates a Lifetime Firefighter designation for firefighters and volunteer firefighters.
HB 493: Enhanced Safety for School Crossings – This bill directs the Florida Department of Transportation to study the viability and cost of creating a state-wide system for the designation of safe school crossing locations.
HB 501: Public Records and Meetings/ Information Technology/Postsecondary Education Institutions – This bill protects IT security information at public colleges and universities.
HB 505: Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act – This bill removes a substance with a medically accepted use from the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.
HB 573: Water Protection and Sustainability – This bill creates the “Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act” and requires the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative to provide an annual report on local projects and conservation efforts.
HB 577: Discount Plan Organizations – This bill streamlines the regulation of Discount Plans and Discount Plan Organizations.
HB 599: Public Works Projects – This bill prevents state and local governments from imposing specified restrictions on contracts for public works projects funded 50 percent or more by the state.
HB 1203: Public Records/ Department of Corrections/ Health Information – This bill enhances the protections of inmate health and medical information.
HB 7091: Probation and Community Control – This bill enhances public safety by improving Florida’s community supervision laws.
SB 164: Certificates of Title for Motor Vehicles – This bill eliminates the fee on car titles issued to remove the name of a deceased co-owner to a surviving spouse.
SB 256: Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching – This bill saves the Florida Center for the Partnerships for Arts Integrated Teaching from repeal.
CS/SB 312: Eyewitness Identification – This bill provides guidelines for law enforcement agencies to follow when conducting photo and in-person lineups.
SB 368: Transportation Facility Designations – This bill makes 50 honorary designations of Florida transportation facilities, including “Lieutenant Debra Clayton Memorial Highway” and “First Class Deputy Normal Lewis Memorial Highway.”
SB 396: Student Loan Debt – This bill requires colleges and universities to provide students with financial information about their student loans annually.
SB 398: Estoppel Certificates – This bill provides fee caps and revises requirements for the issuance and expiration of estoppel certificates for condominium, cooperative, and homeowners’ associations.
SB 800: Medication Synchronization – This bill requires health insurers and HMOs to allow patients to align refill dates of prescription medication.
SB 1018: Pollution – This bill requires public notification within 24 hours of pollution incidents and provides additional resources for pollution prevention and recovery.
SB 1108: Public Records /Firefighters and their Spouses and Children – This bill extends the public record exemption for personal identifying information of firefighters and their spouses and children to former firefighters, their spouses and children.
SB 1634: Residential Elevators – This bill enhances the safety standards of residential elevators.
SB 1672: Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority – This bill renames the organization, streamlines its structure, and changes its mission to focus on regional transit challenges and opportunities in the Tampa Bay area.
Photo: Gov. Rick Scott (SCOTT KEELER)