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Idaho governor signs bill into law that would establish mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl

Counterfeit pills containing fentanyl
Drug Enforcement Administration
These pills were made to look like Oxycodone, but they're actually an illicit form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

House Bill 406, which supporters say will help add strict penalties for drug trafficking, is set to take effect July 1

Judges in Idaho will lose their discretion for determining sentences for people convicted of fentanyl trafficking after Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a controversial bill into law.

On Monday, Erica McGinnis, chief clerk of the Idaho House of Representatives, read a brief letter from Idaho Gov. Brad Little informing House members he signed House Bill 406 into law.

House Bill 406 will implement mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl traffickers into law. This means that if someone is found guilty of trafficking fentanyl in Idaho, a mandatory minimum sentence would include:

  • Three years in prison and a minimum of a $10,000 fine for 4 to 13 grams, or for 100-249 pills
  • Five years in prison and a minimum of a $15,000 fine for 14 to 27 grams, or for 250-499 pills
  • 10 years in prison and a minimum of a $25,000 fine for more than 28 grams, or for 500 or more pills

The bill also adds provisions for the crime of a “drug-induced homicide,” meaning a person could be charged with a felony if they supply drugs that later kills someone.
Idaho has mandatory minimum sentences in place for marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. Bill sponsors said adding fentanyl to the list is necessary for Idaho to keep with its “tough on crime” policies — which they said notably differs from drug laws in neighboring states.

The bill also had significant support from law enforcement members throughout Idaho. Meridian chief of police Tracy Basterrechea and Ada County Sheriff Matt Clifford were among those in law enforcement who testified in favor of the bill.

The bill passed the Idaho House of Representatives in a 55-13 vote, and it passed the Senate in a 29-7 vote.

The law is set to take effect on July 1.

Republicans, Democrats expressed concern for fentanyl bill

Opponents of House Bill 406 included Republicans and Democrats who expressed concern that the bill would take away discretion from the judiciary and punish addicts rather than lead drug traffickers.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said during the House debate she felt “torn” on the bill.

“We all want to stop fentanyl …,” Scott said. “The problems that I see with the bill are all the unintended consequences of putting people in prison and the emotional strain on families and the grandparents that call me with their children in prison.”

Sen. Phil Hart, R-Kellogg, was also outspoken against the bill during the committee and floor debate process. Hart, who said he spent time meeting individuals in a recovery program— including those who used fentanyl — informed the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee that he thought the bill would excessively charge individuals found with drugs containing minimal traces of fentanyl.

“I have a real problem with the homicide section of this bill,” Hart said during the committee hearing. “I think we want a fentanyl bill, we want to be tough on fentanyl, but I don’t think this is the bill to do it.”

Some Idaho legislators also spoke of feeling pressured to vote in favor of the bill, even though they had concerns about the bill’s effectiveness. Those with concerns noted that they were being heavily lobbied on the bill or threatened with negative campaigns if they were to oppose it, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.

Earlier this month, Boise Dev reported that Idaho lawmakers faced pressure from a heavily funded PAC that warned of negative spending in the upcoming May Republican primary against them if they did not support the bill.

Idaho Capital Sun reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this story. 

This story was written by Mia Maldonado of the Idaho Capital Sun.

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