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Bipartisan amendment leads to Senate approval of fentanyl testing strips

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Sen. Tina Polsky

Sen. Tina Polsky

Amid a hotly contested, marathon meeting of the Florida Senate March 29, members did find common ground on one piece of legislation designed to fight Florida’s crippling opioid epidemic.

Fifty-two minutes following its scheduled conclusion, which saw both sides vigorously debate over fiercely divided issues such as union dues and concealed carry, the upper chamber took up SB 164, the measure aimed at decriminalizing fentanyl test strips under Florida law as drug paraphernalia by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and passed the bill unanimously.

Prior to its hearing by the full Senate, the legislation’s final committee stop in Senate Rules on March 22 raised concerns regarding the legalization of certain fentanyl test strips. Committee Vice Chair Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, had questions on whether the bill would prohibit assessing the quantities or percentages of the drug in the product.

“What we could be doing is empowering dealers to use fentanyl. We don’t want dealers to have more tools legally in the state of Florida,” Perry told the Rules panel. “I would encourage you to look at that language.”

At the time, Polsky told Perry that if he could think of a way to fix it, she was open to it.

On March 28, Polsky filed an amendment to address Perry’s concerns. The amended language would only legalize “narcotic-drug-testing products that are used solely to determine whether a controlled substance contains fentanyl.”

Testing strips that could measure or determine the quantity, weight, or potency of a controlled substance would remain illegal.

Polsky said she worked with Perry and Rules Chair Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, on the addition to bring all sides to an agreement.

“I want to thank Chair Mayfield and Vice Chair Perry for working with me on this amendment to make the bill even stronger,” Polsky said. “This amendment addresses the concern that the bill as written decriminalizes equipment that could be used by drug traffickers to test the quality or quantity of the fentanyl and not just the presence of the drug.”

In debate, Republican lawmakers praised the strengthening of the measure. Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, who sponsored similar legislation last year, thinks the amendment was an excellent addition.

“It’s now not going to be used by those who have nefarious purposes to determine the weight and the content of their fentanyl as a bragging right,” Brodeur said. “It’s going to help save lives and I appreciate Senator Polsky’s work on it.”

Freshman Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami-Dade, said she remembers watching this bill last year as a private citizen and is now happy to vote on the measure as an elected official.

“I think this is important for the state to move forward,” Calatayud said. “Thank you, Sen. Polsky, for bringing this before us.”

The Senate voted 39-0 to send the measure to the House.

HB 165, the House’s companion bill by Rep. Christina Hunschofsky, D-Parkland, made its final committee stop in the Judiciary on March 23 and is ready for the House floor.

Currently, the House version does not carry the amendment language the Senate just adopted. Following the Judiciary vote, Hunschofsky told Florida Politics, “What they’re there for is to prevent people from dying from doing drugs.”

Polsky said fentanyl killed over 70,000 people nationwide last year and harm reduction measures are necessary.

“It’s an evidence-based, public health approach widely accepted by the medical community for dealing with the opioid crisis,” Polsky said.

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