July 21, 2018

Representative Steven Howitt supports stronger penalties for opioid trafficking, assaulting a police officer

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Boston – State Representative Steven S. Howitt, R-Seekonk, is hailing the passage of a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that strengthens the state’s opioid laws, makes it a felony to assault a police officer, and creates a statewide database for tracking sexual assault evidence kits.

Representative Howitt voted to support the omnibus legislation, which was approved by the House and Senate on April 4 and represents a compromise between two earlier versions of the crime bill passed by both legislative branches last fall. The bill is now on Governor Charlie Baker’s desk awaiting his signature.

The bill provides for the reclassification of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug that was present in 83 percent of all opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts in 2017, as a Class A substance. It also adds carfentanil and U-47700 – also known as “pink death,” which is 4 to 8 times more potent than heroin – to this same category. State Representative Timothy R. Whelan (R-Brewster), a former Massachusetts State Police Sergeant, has been advocating for the new classifications to help address the state’s opioid epidemic.

The bill also creates a fentanyl trafficking penalty for 10 grams of fentanyl or any of its derivatives, punishable by a 3 ½ year mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum penalty of 20 years. The same penalties will also apply to trafficking in carfentanil, regardless of the amount involved. In addition, the bill provides for the automatic adoption of the federal scheduling for opioid drugs, unless the Legislature acts directly on a particular substance, so Massachusetts’ laws can remain current as law enforcement identifies new drugs that are being trafficked.

The criminal justice reform bill contains a series of Republican-sponsored initiatives, including language making it a felony to commit assault and battery with bodily injury on a police officer while performing their official duties. Sponsored by Representative Paul Frost (R-Auburn), the language creates a new mandatory minimum prison sentence of one year and a maximum of 10 years. Offenders will also face a potential fine of between $500 and $10,000.

The bill also takes steps to empower crime victims by directing the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to establish a statewide sexual assault evidence kit tracking system, which will allow victims of sexual assault to anonymously track their kits. Sponsored by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading), the proposal also requires all existing untested kits associated with a reported crime to be submitted for testing.

"I am pleased to support this criminal justice legislation that took many months to negotiate," said Representative Howitt. "This bill will promote public safety in our communities, a cause that I continue to be dedicated to."

Governor Baker had until April 14 to sign the bill into law.

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