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Fentanyl death murder charge bill passes Arizona Senate

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Cameron Arcand

(The Center Square) – Although Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs could end up making the final call of the legislation, making some fentanyl-related deaths a felony murder charge is one step closer to becoming law in Arizona.

The bill passed the Senate 18-10-2, with Democratic Sens. Christine Marsh and Catherine Miranda voting in favor of the legislation last week.

Senate Bill 1344, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, would charge people with first-degree murder if somebody played a direct role in providing someone a deadly dose of fentanyl.

"Classifies, as first-degree murder, causing the death of any person during the course of and in furtherance of the offense or immediate flight from an offense involving the possession for sale, manufacture or transportation of fentanyl," the fact sheet states. The charge could entail life in prison or perhaps the death penalty in some cases. 

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"Too many of our children are dying at the hands of cartels smuggling fentanyl across our border. The issue is continuously getting worse, and we must establish harsher penalties for criminals who bring this dangerous and deadly drug into our communities," Kern told The Center Square in a statement at the time, and he echoed a similar sentiment in his floor speech.

Democrats are skeptical of its effectiveness, with some citing the "War on Drugs."

"It does not reduce the supply or demand of drugs," Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein said before voting no.

However, Marsh said she reluctantly voted yes.

"We cannot criminalize our way out of this crisis," Marsh said on the floor explaining her vote, saying she was "okay with that sentence going higher."

Some Republicans said that tightening the belt could be a good method to help end the crisis.  

"This narrative that drug enforcement doesn't do anything is just false," Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said. 

The vote was one of several dozen at the legislature this week, as many Senate and House bills were making their way out of their respective chambers to be transmitted to the other. If a bill passes both chambers, it will wind up on Hobbs' desk, where she'll ultimately decide whether or not it becomes law.