Emily Allen Published

Bill Would Add New Criminal Charges For Anyone Who Exposes Police, First Responders To Fentanyl

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican from Cabell County, speaks about his bill on the House floor.

A bill that passed the House of Delegates Wednesday creates new misdemeanor and felony charges for anyone who exposes a government employee to a harmful drug or chemical agent.

House Bill 2184 creates a new misdemeanor charge for exposure without injury and a new felony charge for exposure leading to physical harm.

By “government employees,” the bill mostly applies to members of law enforcement, corrections employees, health care providers and first responders.

“We don’t take lightly in this body, or in the committee where this bill came from, increasing penalties,” said House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito. “But when it affects our first responders and our law enforcement, we certainly do.”

The bill specifically references fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, as a prohibited substance under this bill.

Capito told delegates on Wednesday the bill goes on to broadly mention all chemical agents and drugs, in an effort to provide courts considering these charges with more discretion.

“Because what we’re seeing, unfortunately, is derivatives of that drug, and we’re seeing other harmful substances, small amounts of which can cause injury,” Capito said.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said he authored the bill “to put an extra layer of protection on the folks that are trying to protect each and every citizen in the state of West Virginia.”

Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, argued against creating new criminal charges for substance use-related crimes.

“We’ve heard many times in here, and I believe it, that we should reserve prison for the people that we’re afraid of, not the people we’re mad at,” Pushkin said. “This is a bill for people we’re mad at.”

The bill passed the House of Delegates 89-11 Wednesday.

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.