Four years ago, in the midst of a worsening opioid crisis where drug-related deaths were widening the gap as the leading cause of unnatural death, Virginia was on the verge of passing meaningful legislation that could save lives.
In 2019, Republican-backed legislation was proposed to ensure drug dealers who poison people with fentanyl and other illicit drugs would be charged with felony homicide. In the spirit of bipartisanship, the legislation was met with overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle and subsequently passed both chambers of the General Assembly. All that was left was Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature to enshrine the bill into law.
Instead, Northam vetoed the bill. When Democrats had a chance to revive the bill, they chose to effectively kill it.
Since then, the rate of drug-related deaths in Virginia has skyrocketed. Data from the Virginia Department of Health is staggering – the numbers are now higher than both driver-related deaths and gun-related deaths combined.
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Behind every data point is a life that could have been saved and a tragedy that could have been prevented. While the majority of these drug-related deaths are attributed to fentanyl poisoning, law enforcement still cannot prosecute these cases as felony homicide. This sober reality will only grow worse if we do nothing to address it. The General Assembly now has a chance to do what should have been done four years ago, which is why I have filed the same legislation from 2019 to ensure drug dealers who assist in an illicit drug overdose are held accountable. Moreover, unlike four years ago, we have leaders in Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares who are ready to see this bill become law. Unfortunately, however, Democrats have pivoted and have decided to play partisan politics on a nonpartisan issue. The Senate companion to my bill, carried by Sen. Ryan McDougle, was defeated by Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
Opponents may bring up the erroneous argument that such a law would prevent people from reporting a drug overdose. However, Virginia has a good Samaritan law already in place to legally protect people who work with law enforcement to report an overdose and try to save a life.
Thankfully, my bill is still alive and well in the House of Delegates, and I will continue to try to find a path forward. It is my hope that my friends in the Senate – both Democrats and Republicans – will come together on behalf of Virginians and do what we can to save lives.
Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, is the House majority leader. Contact him at DelTKilgore@house.virginia.gov.