Kelly signs ‘good Samaritan’ law to mitigate drug overdose deaths

Gov. Laura Kelly has signed into law a drug overdose prevention measure that will no longer criminalize Kansans who seek help for themselves or others during overdoses.

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May 14, 2024 - 2:20 PM

Gov. Laura Kelly said allowing Kansans to seek assistance for drug overdoses would help save lives during medical emergencies. Photo by Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law a drug overdose prevention measure that will no longer criminalize Kansans who seek help for themselves or others during overdoses.

The bill is part of a slew of legislation Kelly signed into law last week.

Senate Bill 419, known as a “good Samaritan” law, provides immunity from prosecution for drug possession or use for those who call for help from law enforcement or emergency medical services when someone requires life-saving intervention.

“It’s critical that all Kansans are empowered to seek or deliver medical assistance during an emergency,” Kelly said. “This bill is a lifeline for families and Kansans who are battling substance use disorders. It will save lives and provide the opportunity for recovery.”

State’s fentanyl battle

Before the change, Kansas was one of the two states left in the country where people who needed help during drug overdoses could be arrested. Wyoming is now the only state without some form of a good Samaritan opioid overdose law.

Lawmakers passed the measure 114-0 in the House and 36-0 in the Senate, citing the move as a way to fight fentanyl overdoses in the state. The measure follows last year’s legalization of fentanyl test strips as a tool to fight fentanyl overdoses.

“This bill comes on the heels of the decriminalization of fentanyl testing strips — and combined these two policies work to protect vulnerable Kansans by keeping them alive long enough to get the help they need to healthily recover,” said Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson. “This bill represents the sort of compassion and acceptance I’ve always known lives in the hearts of so many Kansans.”

While the extent of fentanyl use in the state is unknown, reports show rising numbers for synthetic opioids, a category that illicit fentanyl falls under. The Kansas Office of Vital Statistics reported a rise in opioid-related deaths from 255 in 2020 to 428 in 2021 and 497 in 2022.

“By extending immunity from prosecution to those seeking or providing aid related to controlled substances, we recognize the inherent value and dignity in every life, even amidst drug-related challenges,” said Rep. Nick Hoheisel, R-Wichita. “Whether it’s teenagers experimenting with pills or older individuals battling addiction, each life is a precious gift deserving preservation.”

Other new laws

Kelly signed Senate Bill 414, approved 114-0 in the House and 26-0 in the Senate, which increases criminal penalties for distribution of fentanyl-related substances.

It also adds fentanyl to the list of drugs included under the crime of child endangerment. Allowing a child to be in an environment where the person knows or suspects fentanyl is present would come with a heightened charge.

The law contains other changes to criminal policy, such as removing the element of concealment and secrecy from the crime of breach of privacy, and amending the Kansas code of procedure for municipal courts’ practices on fingerprinting for municipal convictions.

Kelly also signed Senate Bill 291, a law that will consolidate state IT services and modernize cybersecurity infrastructures. The measure passed 113-1 in the House and 27-9 in the Senate. Among other changes, state government branches would have to implement new cybersecurity standards. The change comes after an October cyberattack that took the judicial system offline for weeks and potentially compromised the personal data of 150,000 Kansans.

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