House endorses adding fentanyl, ‘date rape’ drugs to trafficking laws

The Missouri House has proposed strengthening the state’s trafficking laws to include the potent pain reliever fentanyl and its derivatives, as well as Rohypnol or GHB – both commonly known as “date rape” drugs.

Representative Nick Schroer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 239 would make possession or trafficking of those drugs a felony.  Penalties range from three years to life in prison, depending on the amount of the drug involved.  Missouri laws against trafficking do not include any of those substances.

Lawmakers heard that the abuse of fentanyl steadily increased between 2013 and 2017, and doctors said many people are being treated in emergency rooms because they took heroin mixed with fentanyl.

Bill sponsor Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) said there is a hole in Missouri’s trafficking law, so prosecutors often must charge for whatever drug fentanyl is laced with.  He said more and more it’s being trafficked by itself, as it’s becoming more popular to abuse.

“I have two beautiful, amazing daughters that I kind of want to ensure … that they are not going to be exposed to these things such as fentanyl and carfentanyl and these other drugs of choice that are so dangerous that being prescribed in a micro-milligram fashion can actually kill you,” said Schroer.

Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and is legally used to manage pain, especially after surgery.

“We saw right before the hearing [on HB 239] that there was a record bust in the United States – 260 pounds was busted at the [U.S.] border … but in years past we’ve had many different seizures on Highway 44, Highway 70, where it was 30, 40 pounds, which was enough to kill not only everybody who’s in this Capitol right now, and this Capitol is full, it could kill many Missourians,” said Schroer.

As a criminal defense attorney Schroer represented a number of people who had battled heroin addiction.  That’s how he became aware of the rise of fentanyl.

“The majority of those people said, ‘Once fentanyl came into the picture a lot of my friends either died or a lot of my friends became so hooked that we thought it was a lost cause,’” said Schroer.

Representative Gina Mitten (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) sponsored the amendment that would make possessing or trafficking Rohypnol or GHB punishable by the same penalties as those for other controlled substances.

“If you’ve got somebody at a party that’s got 37 grams of marijuana, why would they have received a greater sentence than somebody that has less than a gram of Rohypnol or GHB?” asked Mitten.  “My amendment … ensured that there was parity between those substances, because personally I believe that the ‘date rape’ drugs are apt to do a heck of a lot more damage than a large amount of marijuana or even heroin.”

Schroer and Mitten both acknowledged that Rohypnol and GHB are also used extensively in sex trafficking.

“If we’re going to take a hard stance on human trafficking it needs to include these substances,” said Mitten.

Schroer anticipates some in the Senate might try to make additions to HB 239 and then send the bill back to the House.  He is optimistic that Governor Mike Parson (R) would sign the bill if it gets to him.

Bill containing several provisions to protect children becomes law

Lawmakers and children’s advocates are praising the signing into law of legislation with several provisions meant to help the state better care for children, including those who have been abused or trafficked.

Representative Diane Franklin chairs the House Committee on Children and Families. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri KidsFirst called Senate Bill 160 the best piece of legislation to come out of the 2017 regular legislative session.

“We came together as the General Assembly, outside advocates, [and] the governor’s office to pass some really important legislation,” said van Schenkhof.  “It really was, I think, an example of how when we prioritize children we really can come together to make good policy decisions and makes sure we get things across the finish line that make our state safer for children.”

Van Schenkhof said one of the most important pieces of SB 160 prevented the destruction of some 11,000 records related to cases of children that were abused but the perpetrator could not be identified.  An appeals court ruling put those records in jeopardy.

“That was an extremely time-sensitive piece of the bill,” said van Schenkhof.  “Children’s safety could have been at risk if we didn’t have this information in our system.”

SB 160 was carried in the House by Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton).  She said the ability to retain such records allows investigators to detect patterns in cases of abuse or neglect.

“The first time that, perhaps, it’s reported or it becomes known to the department, the child may be only three months old and it’s just been identified that abuse has taken place.  If we’re not able to retain those records, then let’s say they’re two years old and there’s abuse and we’re not able to see that there’s a pattern in that child’s life of who they’re with that is resulting in harm to the child,” said Franklin.

Another key provision in SB 160 changes the definition of child abuse and neglect to include trafficking.  Van Schenkhof said under state law, the ability for the state Children’s Division to get involved in a case hinged on a perpetrator having care, custody, and control of a child.

“In trafficking cases often times that caretaking role, or that care, custody, and control piece is missing, and so Children’s Division can’t provide the sort of protective interventions that are necessary,” said van Schenkhof.

Franklin said the provision to change those definitions was “paramount.”  It also makes available to Missouri more federal money, and aids in prosecution of both state and federal cases by aligning Missouri’s definition with that of federal law.

SB 160 also establishes the Foster Care Bill of Rights, to establish in law how foster children will be treated and how their rights will be protected.  Another provision allows children entering foster care to be placed with people who are not related to, but have a close relationship with, the child or the child’s family – otherwise known as “kinship placements.”

SB 160 also extends through 2023 the existence of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Van Schenkhof praised the work done by Franklin on this legislation.

“Diane Franklin was just a rock star.  She worked so hard on this bill.  She really left no stone unturned.  She really understood that kids’ lives were going to be at risk if we were going to lose these 11,000 records,” said van Schenkhof.

Governor Eric Greitens (R) signed SB 160 into law last week.  The provisions dealing with the definitions of abuse and neglect and with retention of abuse records became effective immediately.

Note:  Emily van Schenkhof’s last day with Missouri KidsFirst was last week.  In July she begins work as the Executive Director of the Children’s Trust Fund.