Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rick Scott signs bills on pollution notification and fentanyl trafficking

Posted By on Thu, Jun 15, 2017 at 3:38 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GAGE SKIDMORE VIA FLICKR
Gov. Rick Scott signed measures Wednesday that will impose minimum mandatory sentences on people who traffic in the dangerous drug fentanyl and require increased public notification of pollution incidents.

The bills were among 28 that Scott signed into law late Wednesday.

Scott also vetoed a higher-education measure (SB 374) that was a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The measure, for example, would have required state universities to develop “block” tuition plans and created a new board to oversee the 28 state colleges.

The fentanyl legislation (HB 477), sponsored by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, will impose a minimum three-year sentence for anyone caught with at least four grams of fentanyl or other synthetic opioids like carfentanil.

Anyone caught with 14 or more grams of fentanyl will be imprisoned for at least 14 years and those caught with 28 or more grams will serve minimum 25-year prison sentences.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said earlier Wednesday that the three-year minimum mandatory is needed to get synthetic opioids “off the streets.”

“This is black market fentanyl. This isn't the fentanyl that is being administered to cancer patients, to surgery patients,” Bondi said. “This is the black-market stuff that is being manufactured in Asia and it's coming in the through the traditional smuggling routes, Canada, but mainly Mexico.”

In May, Scott issued an executive order declaring that an opioid epidemic “state of emergency” existed in Florida. The order, which came amid calls for action because of deaths linked to drugs such as fentanyl and heroin, allowed the state to draw down $27 million in federal money for prevention, treatment and recovery services.

The Florida Sheriffs Association pushed for the bill, which takes effect Oct. 1, as a way to expand efforts to combat the growing opioid epidemic.

“We must continue to be equipped with the necessary resources and laws to reduce the supply and demand of illegal drugs,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, the president of the association, said in a prepared statement.

The legislation nearly failed to pass in the final days of the spring legislative session when the Senate sought to give judges more discretion in sentencing people in fentanyl cases. But the House prevailed in its position, insisting that even four grams represented a major amount of the synthetic drug, which has been linked to a surge of overdose deaths.

Meanwhile, the measure requiring stepped-up public notification of pollution incidents (SB 1018) is the result of controversies last year in the handling of a sinkhole opening at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Polk County and sewage discharges into Tampa Bay.

The measure, which was sponsored by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and becomes law July 1, requires owners or operators of facilities responsible for pollution to submit reports within 24 hours to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The department, in turn, will be required to post the information online within 24 hours. The department will also have to create a subscription system for people to receive the notices.

“The sewage spill in Pinellas County and pollution incident at Mosaic last year demonstrated the importance of a 24-hour public notification requirement following pollution incidents,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “Floridians deserve to know about these types of events, and every Florida resident should enjoy clean water and a healthy environment.”

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