Lawmakers take up special session bills targeting opioid epidemic
March 1, Wisconsin Health News
Lawmakers are starting to take up proposals introduced as part of the special session Gov. Scott Walker called in January to fight the opioid epidemic.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety held a public hearing Tuesday on bills that would expand limited legal immunity to overdose victims and increase the number of investigators focused on drug trafficking and addiction at the Department of Justice. The two bills are out of 11 proposed during the session.
"Our goal is to save lives and to fight addiction and illegal drug use," Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, told committee members.
One proposal would extend limited immunity to overdose victims, building on a 2014 law that provided immunity to those who called for help. It has support from the Wisconsin Medical Society.
Harsdorf said Wisconsin is the only state with a 911 Good Samaritan law that does not extend limited immunity to both the caller and the person experiencing the overdose.
"This is a very important change for us to make to save lives," she said. The committee is set to vote on the proposal Thursday.
The other bill would provide $420,000 annually to hire four investigators in the Department of Justice. Access to illegal drugs such as heroin and meth is "far too easy in many of our communities," Harsdorf said.
"We continue to make great strides in the fight against illegal drug and addiction by increasing access to treatment and encouraging prevention programs," she said. "These additional positions will help in the fight by striking at those who are bringing the illegal drugs into the state."
Jason Smith, acting administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, said the bill would increase the number of staff in their division by four. They have 103 investigators, with about a fifth dedicated to drug enforcement.
"While heroin use remains a focus for Wisconsin law enforcement and treatment services, meth has quietly surged to a point where the number of cases, arrests and charges are on par with heroin," he told lawmakers.