California Public Safety Committee Declines to Hear Fentanyl Bill AB 1058

By Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore
Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.
March 28, 2023Updated: March 29, 2023

A hearing for Assemblyman Jim Patterson’s (R-Fresno) recently introduced Assembly Bill 1058 (AB 1058), aiming to increase penalties for fentanyl dealers, was postponed indefinitely by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), chair of the public safety committee, on Thursday, March 23.

In a press conference held in Fresno March 24, Patterson decried the move while flanked by a group supporting sentencing enhancements for fentanyl distribution, including law enforcement officials and mothers of overdose victims.

“California is saying loud and clear to these dealers that our kids are fair game—they can keep selling, and if they get caught with thousands of potentially deadly pills, they will walk with a misdemeanor,” Patterson said in a statement to The Epoch Times. “It’s unconscionable.”

Pamela Smith, mother of 22-year-old fentanyl overdose victim Jackson Smith, spoke at the press conference of her frustration about the bill’s rejection. “To say the least, I was extremely disappointed. I find it outrageous.”

California law currently allows fentanyl dealers to be released within days of their arrest, and supporters of Patterson’s proposed AB 1058 say this policy is endangering local communities. The language in the bill proposes increased penalties for those with convictions pertaining to fentanyl possession of more than 28.35 grams.

“It’s time that the legislators in Sacramento stand up and do the right thing, and they need to hold these drug dealers accountable and put them away for a very long time,” Smith said. “That’s what they deserve because they are killing our children.”

Epoch Times Photo
Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer attends MedMen Red Jacket Preparation Launch with Brotherhood Crusade in Culver City, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2019. (Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for MedMen)

Addressing ‘The Fentanyl Issue’

Jones-Sawyer defended his actions in an email to The Epoch Times.

“The fentanyl issue requires comprehensive input from a variety of experts and stakeholders in order to establish a united approach to solving the matter,” he said.

“Moving forward, I intend to work on this issue by bringing those who understand the causation, prevention, and treatment components together with policy makers to ensure we have a tactical solution in hand.”

Last year, Jones-Sawyer introduced Assembly Bill 2195, approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom Sept. 23, which reduced sentences and penalties for drug dealing and other crimes labeled as a “public nuisance.” Critics say his latest move on the fentanyl bill echoes these past actions.

At the press conference, Patterson said, “They simply will not hear the bill. … We are facing this obstruction in Sacramento, and it has consequences—real life and death consequences—across the state of California.”

“We know what fentanyl is doing to our kids, and all we are asking for is consequences for the people dealing,” he said.

The Fresno District Attorney’s office also vehemently spoke out on the issue at the event.

“This public safety committee is behaving in a way that is unconstitutional,” said a spokesperson for the office. “They are censoring the proposed legislation of individuals who have been elected in their home district.”

Fentanyl is a potent, synthetic opioid reported to be 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the department lists the narcotic as the top local drug threat for Southern California.

The most recent data from the California Department of Public Health shows 6,843 opioid drug overdose deaths in the state in 2021, with fentanyl accounting for 5,722.

Epoch Times Photo
Photos of drug overdose victims line a chain-link fence at the Laguna Niguel Skate Park on International Overdose Awareness Day in Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2020. (Chris Karr/The Epoch Times)

The National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report alarming trends in fentanyl overdose deaths nationwide, with numbers relatively flat from 2017-2019 and accelerating significantly since 2020.

The number of reported total drug overdose victims in 2019 was 70,630, jumping up to 106,699 in 2021, and by August 2022, 108,000 overdose deaths were recorded in the first eight months of the year. The increase is blamed on the prevalence of fentanyl, which accounts for the majority of the incidents, according to the CDC.

“Twice as many people die of overdoses than are killed on our highways every year, and three times as many than are murdered,” said Paco Balderama, Fresno police chief, at the press conference.

Additionally, the flow of illegal narcotics is an ongoing issue for border states like California.

“We like to say that we’re intercepting 10 percent” of the drugs coming into the country, Balderama observed, but “that’s not true—that’s a gross overestimation. We’re maybe stopping 2 percent.”

Steve McComas of the Fresno Sheriff’s Office told the press, “We are not winning the war on fentanyl or the opioid crisis that is in our state and in our nation. … The Public Safety Committee’s decision to not hear this bill will cost lives.”

Two state Senate bills being considered by legislators also target fentanyl issues, but with different approaches. Senate Bill 237, introduced by state Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), would strengthen penalties for possession, distribution, and trafficking.

Senate Bill 234, presented by state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-Burbank), would require public schools K-12, charter schools, community colleges, stadiums, concert venues, and amusement parks to maintain a supply of naloxone, used to reverse fentanyl overdoses.