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Video: Watch This House of Delegates Criminal Subcommittee Meeting and Explain Why Anyone Would Oppose Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s “Good Samaritan” Bill

"All we're trying to do...is save lives...not about making sure that we've got more people to prosecute and threaten into recovery"

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I watched the following video of yesterday’s House of Delegates Courts of Justice Committee/Criminal Subcommittee meeting, specifically the discussion and vote on Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s SB667, or as she refers to it, the “Good Samaritan Bill.” The bill was referred out of committee on a 5-3 vote, with two Republicans (Rob Bell and Chris Collins) and one Democrat (Mike Mullin) voting no, for some reason. Basically, after listening to the discussion, reading the bill and talking to folks who know more about this than I do, I’m baffled why anyone would vote against this bill. First, here’s what the bill does:

“Provides that no individual shall be subject to arrest or prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol; possession of a controlled substance; possession of marijuana; intoxication in public; or possession of controlled paraphernalia if (i) such individual (a) seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for himself, if he is experiencing an overdose, or for another individual, if such other individual is experiencing an overdose, or (b) is experiencing an overdose and another individual seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for him; (ii) such individual remains at the scene of the overdose or at any location to which he or the individual requiring emergency medical attention has been transported; (iii) such individual identifies himself to the law-enforcement officer who responds; and (iv) the evidence for a prosecution of one of the enumerated offenses would have been obtained only as a result of an individual seeking or obtaining emergency medical attention. The bill also provides that no law-enforcement officer acting in a good faith shall be found liable for false arrest if it is later determined that the person arrested was immune from prosecution. Current law provides an affirmative defense to such offenses only when an individual seeks or obtains emergency medical attention for himself, if he is experiencing an overdose, or for another individual, if such other individual is experiencing an overdose.”

The discussion basically had several members of the public speaking in support, and several against. The ones in support emphasized the need to encourage – and certainly not discourage – people from calling 911 to save the lives of people in the throes of opioid withdrawal, overdosing, addicted to drugs, etc. As one said:

“This bill will allow consistency, will allow the thousands of recovering people across…Virginia to engage and help people and create a healthier community; this is a very good, evidence-based bill that will save lives, increase public safety and make us all better off in the community.”

Another said:

“Please support this bill, which protects individuals from arrest if they overdose or seek help for someone else overdosing. It will allow more people to seek the medical care they need without fear, and will result in fewer individuals dying because people are too afraid to call emergency services. We know that Good Samaritan laws and knowledge of them make calling 911 more likely. A 2018 study showed that the odds were three times greater of calling 911 when the responder knew there were Good Samaritan laws…It saves Virginians’ lives, please support.”

One opponent, a Deputy Commonwealth Attorney in Henrico County and the “lead drug prosecutor for Henrico County,” argued that:

“I’m strongly against this bill because people will die as a result of this bill. I have learned more than anybody in this room the effects of drugs, what the effects they have on the brain and how people act who are addicted. People… do not make rational decisions at the time that they interact with police, the time of their arrest…It’s going to preempt a number of situations where the government can provide help and work with folks...Based on my experience, because of the effects that narcotics usage, drug usage has on the brain, people don’t make rational decisions at times.”

In response, Del. Charniele Herring (D) asked:

I want to make sure I understand your testimony, which is that people will not go for a treatment or help…unless there is an ability to bring a criminal charge?”

Then, Del. Don Scott (D) spoke:

“You said you’re a prosecutor and used to be a defense attorney. [That’s correct, sir] Huh, interesting [Laughter]…I ask because I do this and people who are in the throes of addiction, they are rational enough to call for help, which is what this bill is about. It’s not about making sure that we’ve got more people to prosecute and threaten into recovery.  We want folks to make the choice when they are, as you say, rational, to go into addiction [treatment]. But what I’ve seen, even with drug court, people fail often in drug court, and then they come back, and then they fail, and then they come back. And so, that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to put people in the position where they can be successful. But that’s not what you’re saying here.  All we’re trying to do…is save lives, to give people the opportunity to be able to call...I don’t think anybody who’s in the throes of addiction…they’re not worried about necessarily drug treatment at that time, they’re worried about can they call their friend some help without going to jail that night…I want to be able to stay with them until law enforcement comes to save a life. That’s all this bill is about, can we get this thing out?!?”

After a bit more back-and-forth, including with hard-ass Republican Del. Rob Bell, the bill reported 5-3, with two Republicans and one Democrat (Mike Mullin) voting no. Again, I’m baffled…why would anyone vote against this seemingly commonsense “Good Samaritan” bill? I really don’t get it.