The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would make the crime of selling fentanyl involved in an overdose death first-degree murder.
House Bill 607, known as Parker’s Law, was authored by state Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia and says the delivery of fentanyl in exchange for anything of value that results in the death of the user will result in a 20-year prison sentence. The bill originally covered all controlled substances, but was amended to only fentanyl.
The bill also contains language that would protect those who gave drugs to an overdose victim without payment. The bill was amended twice Wednesday, with one by Bain adding a requirement that the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review provide annual statistics on the number of those convicted of violating this law.
The other, by state Rep. Daryl Porter, D-Summitt, changed the original controlled substances language to strictly fentanyl. Both passed on voice votes.
“I want to end this,” said State Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth and the chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee that approved the bill for a floor vote. “People are exploiting our children. We need to show the people of Mississippi we have their back."
The bill passed by an overwhelming 101-7 margin.
State Rep. Dan Eubanks, R-Walls, said that the bill could make a room of drug users scatter rather than calling first responders if one of them were to die of an overdose. Eubanks said this would be because if money exchanged hands for drugs, the one who sold to the victim could face a first-degree murder charge.
Bain said in debate that it would have to be a direct sale, modeled on a similar bill passed into law by Rhode Island. He also said the bill has a “Good Samaritan” clause that holds blameless anyone who seeks medical assistance for the victim if evidence for the charge was gained in the act of seeking assistance.
State Rep. Mark Tullos, R-Raleigh, asked Bain if the bill could possibly get a first degree-murder conviction for a confidential informant provided with drugs by a law enforcement agency to arrest users and dealers.
Bain said bills couldn’t address every possible hypothetical situation and that the issue of whether it was a direct sale would have to be decided by a court. He said his interpretation was that since the drugs were being distributed under supervision in a law enforcement action, they’d be acting lawfully even though the substances themselves were illegal.
The bill is named after Parker Rodenbaugh, a Madison native whose 2014 overdose on synthetic LSD in Starkville led to the drug dealer, Skylar O’Kelly, being convicted of second-degree murder. The state court of appeals overturned O’Kelly’s conviction in August 2018.
Similar bills have died in the Mississippi Legislature since 2018. Last year, a bill also authored by Lamar passed the House, but died in committee in the Senate. In 2020, Lamar brought up a similar bill that died in committee without a floor vote.