Los Angeles resident Matt Capelouto and his daughter Alexandra, who died from fentanyl poisoning two days before Christmas in 2019 at the age of 20. (Screenshot via YouTube/Matt Capelouto)
Democratic state Sen. Thomas J. Umberg has reintroduced a proposal that seeks to admonish fentanyl dealers, after similar legislation that he authored was killed by the California Senate’s Public Safety Committee last year.
“Fentanyl is not going away, and neither am I,” Mr. Umberg said in a Jan. 17 statement to reintroduce the measure. “We can’t let this issue go. I can’t face any more parents grieving their lost daughters and sons without doing everything we can to stop this fentanyl poisoning.”
Using the so-called “gut and amend” process, Senate Bill 21—which previously focused on remote proceedings for government meetings—was rewritten by Mr. Umberg to warn convicted fentanyl dealers that if their future actions lead to death, they could face murder charges.
The wording takes after the Watson advisement given to those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs—that future occurrences that cause death can result in murder charges.
Known as “Alexandra’s Law” after Alexandra Capelouto—a 20-year-old who died in 2019 after consuming a counterfeit pharmaceutical pill containing five times the lethal dose of fentanyl—the measure was previously introduced by Mr. Umberg as Senate Bill 44.
Democratic colleagues on the Senate Public Safety Committee rejected the proposal twice in 2023, saying it would potentially affect more people than intended and leave them with permanent risk of murder charges.
Meanwhile, former Sen. Melissa Melendez, a Republican, introduced similar legislation in 2021, which was twice killed by the same committee.
Seeking to find common ground with some opposed to the measure, the new proposal includes additional language about drug treatment for offenders.
“We heard the concerns and objections of the few members of the Senate Public Safety Committee, took numerous amendments ... and continued to work on this proposal [last] year,” Mr. Umberg said in the statement.
As the prior version of SB 21, regarding remote proceedings for government meetings, cleared the Senate in May 2023, under legislative rules, the newly worded measure will avoid the Senate Public Safety Committee entirely and will next be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a date to be determined.
If it advances out of committee, the bill would proceed to the Assembly floor, and if approved there, head back to the Senate for consideration by the 40-member body.
Carrying bipartisan support, Mr. Umberg’s prior proposal on the issue included more than half of the Senate as co-authors and sponsors.
“With ever-growing concern in both houses and public opinion off the charts demanding a legislative response to our fentanyl epidemic, I am confident that we’re poised for success in 2024,” he said in the statement. “I also believe that beginning this measure in the Assembly this year will allow for a different set of discussions with open minds.”
The proposal’s previous path through the Legislature proved controversial, with family members and loved ones of those lost to fentanyl overdose attending hearings and calling in to voice their support.
Several expressed anger and frustration last year at the Public Safety Committee’s lack of action.
“It’s unbelievable what they’re doing in there,” Mr. Capelouto told The Epoch Times after the bill was killed in April 2023. “It’s disgusting.”
Matt Capelouto, the father of fentanyl poisoning victim Alexandra—the namesake of California's Senate Bill 44—speaks at a news conference where California assemblymembers, law enforcement officials, and local representatives propose to put stricter fentanyl enforcement on the upcoming 2024 ballot, in front of the Capitol in Sacramento on June 6, 2023. (Courtesy of Assembly Republican Caucus)
With a new path for the bill, he said he’s hopeful that lawmakers will recognize the intent of the proposal and the need to act soon.
“Alexandra’s Law is a commonsense approach which doesn’t aim to charge murder, it aims to save lives,” Mr. Capelouto said in the statement. “We want to prevent a drug dealer from becoming a death dealer.”
Noting the severity of the overdose crisis—approximately 106,661 died nationwide of drug overdose in the 12 months ending July 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the senator said that time is of the essence.
“We can’t wait for another 25,000 Californians to die from this poisoning epidemic,” Mr. Umberg said. “We simply must use every tool possible to address this crisis—prevention, education, treatment, and stopping repeat drug dealers who poison our kids.”
A Republican co-author of his 2023 attempt agrees.
“While we have laws on the books for outreach and educational awareness, we also must hold bad actors who supply illicit fentanyl to our teens accountable,“ Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) told The Epoch Times in an email on Jan. 22. ”I’ll work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure a safe and healthy community for our families and teens.”
Supporters, including San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, say the law is needed to protect public safety.
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Gloria said in the same statement. “I’m proud to stand with Sen. Umberg and the families of victims to reintroduce this important legislation that sends a clear message to dealers that they will face serious consequences if they continue to peddle this deadly poison in our communities.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria speaks at a Senate Public Safety Committee hearing in support of "Alexandra's Law" in Sacramento on April 25, 2023. (Screenshot via California State Senate)