"Kristen's Law" passes RI House 55-14 - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

"Kristen's Law" passes RI House 55-14

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By John Krinjak

Email: jkrinjak@abc6.com

Twitter: @johnkrinjakABC6

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) -- Kristen's Law passed the house by an overwhelming 55 to 14 vote Thursday night, but not before a heated, two-hour debate on the floor.

"Anyone trying to sell you drugs, they're not your friend, they're trying to kill you," said Rep. Jim McLaughlin of Cumberland. 

"Can we make the bill better for a 17-year-old who is not a vicious drug dealer," said Rep. Bob Lancia of Cranston. 

The law would give judges the option to send dealers to prison for life if they supply a user with a fatal overdose, as was the case with the law's namesake... Kristen Coutu--who died from a fentanyl overdose in 2014.

"We have a dead person in this scenario, okay? Last week there were 40 bodies in the state morgue. 18 of them were there on overdoses," said Rep. Cale Keable of Burrillville.

Opponents are worried it will unfairly target low-level dealers who are themselves battling addiction.

"Most of all those individuals look like me," said Rep. Anastasia Williams of Providence. 

Others worry it might deter people from calling 911.

"When the person next to them goes into an overdose, they're going to leave because they don't want to go to jail for life. My fear is we're going to kill more people with this bill," said Rep. Michael Chippendale of Foster. 

Speaker Nick Mattiello applauded the decisive vote, saying it's about the punishment fitting the crime.

"If you're selling drugs that cause someone to die, that has to be treated appropriately and we have to send the right message," said Mattiello. 

But skeptics like Haley McKee, who's a recovering addict, think most reps didn't vote their conscience.

"Most of which actually confided that they thought it was a bad bill, that they thought it was going to be damaging// but felt that their jobs were under threat if they didn't support it," said McKee.

Kristen's law does not over-ride the good Samaritan clause which protects people who call to get help for a person who is overdosing.

Kristen Coutu's mother Sue, who testified over and over in support of this bill, was not at Thursday night's vote, but we're told she's very happy to see it pass.

Gov. Raimondo says she plans to sign it. 

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