(The Center Square) – Republican gubernatorial nominee Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, held a rally at the State Capitol on Monday to spotlight Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis and his proposed bills.
Senate Bill 1195, also called Tyler’s Law, would require a 25-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of fentanyl distribution that led to a death. Senate Bill 1152 would create a stronger mapping and reporting system for overdoses, as The Center Square previously reported.
The rally featured state legislators, leaders of faith-based organizations helping addicts, and family members who lost loved ones to fentanyl use.
The strong penalty for selling fentanyl that causes a death is something seen in other states and at the federal level. In April, the Department of Justice charged seven people for fentanyl distribution resulting in death; convictions carry a 20-year minimum sentence. Harsher penalties related to fentanyl trafficking or fentanyl-related deaths have been proposed or became law in Ohio, Louisiana, Florida, and Mississippi.
“Our message to drug dealers needs to be clear: If you kill a Pennsylvanian, through the sale of fentanyl, you will face a mandatory minimum of 25 years,” Mastriano said. “They need to be locked up – they’re killing people, all for money.”
Critics of mandatory minimum sentences argue that the laws do little to combat the opioid crisis. Families for Justice Reform has called the outcomes of similar bills in Pennsylvania “arbitrary” and caution that they “diminish respect for the justice system.”
“Pennsylvania should invest more in drug courts, community and prison drug treatment, life-saving overdose medications and other protections for first responders, and mental health treatment,” argued the organization, commonly known as FAMM.
Even as legislators supported harsher penalties, they noted the importance of helping Pennsylvanians struggling with addiction.
At the rally, speakers highlighted how faith-based recovery programs helped them.
“As a former addict, we don’t just wake up and we’re like, ‘today’s a good day to be a drug addict.’ No, we’re trying to cover up and numb pain,” said Liz Harris, who ended up in a faith-based recovery home after she couldn’t get into a rehabilitation program. “I’m grateful because I’m one that made it out.”
“There are as many reasons for addiction as there are addicts out on the street, because we all got addicted for our own reasons, not because we were put into a box,” said John Petrocelli, president of Affirming Fires Ministry in Dubois and a former addict.
SB1195 was referred to the Judiciary Committee on June 23 and SB1152 was re-referred to the Appropriations Committee on June 22 after its second consideration.