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Republicans want voters to decide if fentanyl dealers could face murder charges

The bipartisan bill to do this failed in the regular legislative process.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Republicans introduced a constitutional amendment to potentially charge fentanyl dealers with murder. Anytime there is a constitutional amendment, voters have to weigh in.

They're doing it this way because both Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature have already tried to do it the traditional way by introducing bills. But the bills keep failing in the same Public Safety Committees. 

In 2019, Alexandra Cappeloutto purchased what she thought was a Percocet pill from a dealer on social media. 

“She took this pill before going to bed at night, and it killed her instantly," Matt Cappeloutto said. "My wife found her dead in her bedroom the next morning.”

Matt Cappeloutto got to work right away meeting with lawmakers hoping to pass Alexandra’s Law, which would warn fentanyl dealers on their first conviction that if their future actions lead to someone’s death, they can be charged with murder. 

“You could use that to hold them accountable for acting with reckless disregard for human life, which is what is needed to be proven by prosecutors and gives them the ability to put somebody behind bars for a long time,” Cappeloutto said.

Twenty-two state senators signed on to co-author the bill by Democratic Senator Tom Umberg, which means if it was voted on on the Senate floor it would have passed with a majority vote. 

“But it's this darn safety committee that keeps killing the bill,” Cappeloutto said.

The bill was also killed in the Public Safety Committee on the Assembly side before it could be voted on by all assembly members. 

So Republican lawmakers announced they are introducing a constitutional amendment. The constitutional amendment would still likely go through the public safety committees, then would require a two-thirds vote from both the Senate and the Assembly, before it goes to voters for the final say. 

"You have an opportunity to let the voters of California weigh in on this," Cappeloutto said. "If you truly are a representative of the people of California, you'll give them this opportunity."

The governor does not have to sign a constitutional amendment like he would a regular bill. Another bonus to doing it this way is that a constitutional amendment doesn’t have the same deadlines that regular bills do. Which is why they are able to introduce this far into the session.

The Democratic lawmakers on the Public Safety Committee who voted against Alexandra’s Law had several concerns. 

Senator Scott Wiener is concerned that it’s hard to prove the dealer knew the first time he was selling fentanyl, and this warning on their record would be permanent. What if it's some college kid giving a pill to a friend and he doesn't know it's fentanyl, Wiener questioned. 

Lawmakers like Assemblymember Isaac Bryan and Chairman Reginald Byron Jone Sawyer expressed that they didn’t want another war on drugs where people are locked up, prisons fill up, and the dealers can be easily replaced.  

WATCH RELATED: CA lawmakers hold committee hearing on fentanyl crisis (May 2023).

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