AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Crammed into Texas Sen. Joan Huffman’s office chanting “shame,” a group of Texans confronted staffers on Thursday, demanding the senator uses her influence to take action on legislation related to addressing the fentanyl crisis.
The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance is calling on Huffman — who is a member of the Criminal Justice Committee — to advance several bills that aim to decriminalize the use of fentanyl testing strips. Currently, under the Texas Controlled Substances Act drug testing equipment such as these strips are classified as drug paraphernalia, making it illegal for people to recreationally test.
The test strips cost roughly a dollar and can be used to test drugs, powders and pills for the presence of fentanyl, which is significantly more powerful than other drugs and can be fatal.
Earlier this month, the Texas representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 362, which would allow people to safely test their drugs for fentanyl “without the risk of prosecution.” Governor Greg Abbott has indicated he would sign this into law if it were passed.
But the broad support in the lower chamber has not been echoed in the Senate. Two similar bipartisan bills, Senate Bill 207 and Senate Bill 868, have been referred to Huffman’s committee but have not yet received a hearing.
Nexstar reached out to Huffman’s office for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Proposal to increase penalties for distributing fentanyl
The group took their protest to the House gallery, where they continued to chant “no more drug wars,” in opposition of House Bill 6, which would increase criminal penalties for selling and distrubuting fentanyl. In the event that fentanyl kills the user, the person who sold or gave the drug could be charged with murder.
The bill’s author, Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, said their vote is a message to those who are dealing fentanyl that “we’re coming for you.” Lawmakers gave the bill initial approval with 121 voting in favor and 24 voting against it.
Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, echoed the concerns raised in the House gallery earlier this morning about how the legislation might impact the state’s criminal justice system. Wu said he is proud of the work the chamber has done to decriminalize testing strips, but said historically increasing penalties around drugs has not led to a reduction of usage in the United States.
“I know everyone is decided on how they will vote, but I am here to speak against the continuation of the drug war,” he said. “All it has resulted in is more of our citizens in prison, more broken families and more broken communties.”
House Bill 6 will need a final vote during third reading before it is officially passed. Its counterpart identical bill in the Senate was written by Huffman and already passed through the upper chamber.
This is a developing story, check back for updates. Capitol Correspondent Monica Madden will have a full report on KXAN at 5 p.m.