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Rep. Simpson reflects on ‘tremendous’ year targeting fentanyl trafficking

As this year’s legislative session in Alabama draws to a close, Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, spoke on what he considered to be a “tremendous” year in terms of pushing legislation targeting fentanyl trafficking in the state, which has increased significantly in recent years.

Perhaps the most notable piece of legislation related to combating fentanyl trafficking was House Bill 1, sponsored by Simpson, that imposed severe penalties for fentanyl traffickers up to life in prison.

‘We’ve seen the effects of fentanyl in our community’

In 2021, more than 1,000 Alabamians died from fentanyl overdoses, a nearly 136% increase over the previous year, 316 of which were in Jefferson County. The National Drug Control Policy, a federal agency that coordinates the nation’s drug policy, named fentanyl as the single-greatest drug threat in Alabama for the third consecutive year in 2023, a designation derived from more than 100 Alabama law enforcement survey respondents.

‘We want to try to catch the traffickers’

Simpson’s HB1, which was among the first bills this session to be signed into law, imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of three years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for fentanyl possession between 1-2 grams. Between 2-4 grams would see a minimum ten-year sentence and a fine of at least $100,000, and more than eight grams would net a life sentence and a fine of at least $750,000.

When up for a vote on the House floor back in March, it passed unanimously with a vote of 105-0, and later in the Senate with a vote of 31-0. Simpson said that it was the effect of fentanyl on Alabama communities that led to his proposal receiving such bi-partisan support.

“If you look at a lot of the legislation that passed on these types of crimes, they were bi-partisan; the votes were unanimous, there wasn’t a lot of conflict going through them, and that’s different from what we’ve seen in the past,” Simpson told Alabama Daily News.

“The reason why I think it’s different is because of just how much fentanyl is affecting us. You look at the traffickers, we want to try to catch the traffickers and actually put them in prison.”

Simpson had also sponsored a bill – House Bill 230 – that would impose additional criminal charges for those who intentionally or recklessly expose a first responder to fentanyl, which received bi-partisan support as well, passing the House on May 2 with a unanimous vote of 105-0.

When asked what motivated him to target fentanyl so aggressively, Simpson said it was a matter of seeing first hand the effects of fentanyl on communities from his years of experience working in the criminal justice system.

“Criminal justice is my background, I was a prosecutor for 12 years, so I’ve seen the criminal justice system first hand,” Simpson told Alabama Daily News.

“I’ve seen how it affects our community when we allow people to continuously be out on the streets and continuously commit the same offenses over and over. I’ve seen how drugs have affected our community and ruined lives and families. Criminal justice is my passion, so anything I can do to help on that front, I just try to help the body in an area that I may have a little bit more knowledge on.”

While HB1 has already been signed into law, HB230 will still need to be concurred with the Senate, with the clock ticking as the end draws near for this year’s legislative session.

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