Governor Northam’s ‘Second Chance Week’ has claimed another legislative casualty.
The Democratic governor announced Thursday that he had vetoed House Bill 2528, a bill that would have made drug dealers who sell synthetic opioids like heroin laced with Fentanyl responsible for the deaths of their customers.
The legislation passed both House and Senate with bipartisan majorities. Dealers whose customers overdose and die could have faced a charge of second degree murder had the bill been signed into law.
The veto puts Northam on something of a political island.
The bill passed with bipartisan majorities in both legislative chambers, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys of both parties had asked for the bill for years in relation to a 2013 Court of Appeals opinion that limited their ability to charge drug dealers.
Attorney General Mark Herring, a fellow Democrat, actively supported the legislation, going so far as to introduce it as part of his own legislative agenda as late as the 2018 session.
Northam said in his veto message he vetoed the bill because it could impact more than just dealers.
“While I share the goal of addressing the opioid crisis and ensuring drug dealers are punished for supplying dangerous drugs, this bill goes beyond drug dealers and would punish individuals who are themselves struggling with addiction,” he said.
“The way to help individuals struggling with addiction is to ensure they receive proper treatment.”
The bill’s sponsor, Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, said in a statement a drug dealer who sells heroin laced with Fentanyl “is no less a killer than if he had pointed a gun and pulled the trigger.”
“Over 100 Virginians are dying of opioid overdoses every month. Constituents are losing friends and family members,” Hugo said. “When we tried to take action, Governor Northam stood in the way. It’s appalling.”
Legislators can’t override the veto, as the legislature has already adjourned for the year and has already had it’s one-day “veto session” in early April.
That’s not the end of the fight, though. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said the bill would be back next year.
“We’re not done with this, not by a long shot,” he said. “Our constituents are dying, and we’re not giving up until we stop this scourge.”