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Lawmakers Weigh Bill Establishing New Crime in Drug Overdoses

HELENA — Supporters of a bill in the legislature say it would help bring justice to the families of drug overdose victims.

Between 2007-2018, drugs took the lives of between 10 and 15 per 100,000 Montanans, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

House Bill 391 would establish an extra penalty for drug dealing if those drugs kill someone. Dealers could spend up to 100 years in prison. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Frank Fleming, R-Billings

Cory Swanson is the Broadwater County Attorney.

“Those dealers that are doing that are putting those people that are desperate — that are drug addicts — in risk of losing their life,” Swanson said. “And they should be subject to a more serious penalty.”

Sam Forstag from the ACLU Montana was the only opponent at the hearing. He said the bill wouldn’t just apply to drug dealers.

“The other fact pattern presented was that you have a husband who is a drug addict and shares drugs with their partner, and their partner dies,” Forstag said. “Both people, as this bill is written would be subject to this 100 year maximum sentence.”

Other proponents said that wasn’t true, that only drug dealers would be subject to the law. However, people can be charged under the bill with the crime “distribution of dangerous drugs” if they give drugs away.

The bill passed the House of Representatives 72-27 in early March.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.