The Senate changed its mind Friday and accepted mandatory-minimum prison sentences in a bill cracking down on synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil.
Senators had stripped the provision earlier in the week, but the House refused to abandon mandatory sentences and sent the bill back.
Senate President Joe Negron initially ruled that Sen. Greg Steube’s motion to rescind the amendment had failed on a voice vote.
But enough members insisted on a recorded vote, which went 20-18 to back down.
The Senate then voted, 31-7, to send the bill to the governor.
Senate Democrats had made it clear during their final caucus of the regular session that they viewed the matter as a test of mandatory-minimum sentencing, which many of them oppose as restricting judge’s authority to consider special cases.
But the feeling wasn’t unanimous. Sen. Darryl Rouson said he usually opposes minimum-mandatory sentencing, but that the opioid crisis presents a special emergency.
“Let’s go home sending a strong message,” he said. He urged support for addiction treatment, “but let’s deal harshly with those who profit off the addictions and illnesses of others.”
Sen. Randolph Bracy, the amendment’s sponsor, argued that the amendment would still permit long sentences for drug traffickers who deserve it.
“It just allows the judge in extreme cases to say, ‘This person does not deserve 25 years.’ ”
Steube insisted the Senate needed to act against dangerous drugs that are killing 10 people each day in Florida when mixed with other drugs, including heroin. He argued that the mandatory sentences wouldn’t apply to most simple users.
“We’re not talking about the kid making a mistake. We’re talking about the trafficker who is mixing and cutting this stuff with heroin and killing people in our state every day.”
HB 477 targets fentanyl and related substances that, when administered by themselves or in combination with other drugs, can prove deadly, for tougher sentencing. For example, it would add fentanyl and derivatives to the list of Schedule I drugs and provides that trafficking in them resulting in death constitutes murder.
Possession of less than 14 grams of fentanyl would bring at least three years in prison; up to 28 grams would bring 15; and and 28 or more grams would bring 25.