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Special Session

House unlikely to correct drug-related manslaughter bill in special session

If the bill is not addressed, the incorrect version will technically become law in September.


Come September, a drug overdose could result in manslaughter charges against the person who gave the victim drugs—or at least, that law could technically go on the books.

The problem comes from Gov. Kay Ivey signing the wrong version of the bill into law after the session had already ended, which Alabama House of Representatives Clerk John Treadwell revealed was the result of a software glitch when the bill was signed two weeks ago.

Ivey signed the version of the bill introduced by House Speaker Pro Temper Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, that more broadly created a charge of manslaughter for an individual who supplies drugs to a person who then overdoses. Late in the session, the bill was amended to only apply to fentanyl and its derivatives.

At the time of the errant signing, Treadwell pointed out that lawmakers would have an opportunity to correct the bill before its September effective date in a special session.

But House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, told APR Wednesday that the House is not likely to take the bill up, citing the narrow scope of the special session to address drawing new maps for Alabama’s Congressional districts.

Indeed, Ivey’s proclamation includes no mention of fixing the bill.

“It is of the utmost importance that this special session only address the congressional map and nothing else,” Ivey said. “The task at hand is too urgent and too important. The Alabama Legislature has one chance to get this done before the July 21 court deadline. Our Legislature knows our state, our people and our districts better than the federal courts or activist groups do.”

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Ledbetter said he believes the law would be effectively unenforceable once it technically becomes law in September, although Andrew Westcott, legal counsel for the Speaker’s office, said it is not quite that clear-cut.

“That would ultimately be for a court to decide,” Westcott said. “There is some case law from the 1800s that supports that idea (that the law is not enforceable). It’s very possible it could be struck down if it were challenged … There’s not a lot of precedent on it, obviously. It’s hard to say what a judge today would do.”

Barry Matson, director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association, said he was under the impression that the law would be fixed during the special session, and said he is going to continue to ask that lawmakers pass it, although he understands the two-thirds vote requirement may make it difficult.

He also agreed that the law Ivey signed would be effectively moot, so district attorneys are not going to be charging people under the act, but said if the law is not fixed during this special session it will prevent local DAs from pursuing the charges the Legislature intended until they can meet next year.

There are still some details to work out that are on pause while the law is fixed, Matson said.

“It’s hard to prove, as it should be,” Matson said. “Under this law, every overdose is a potential manslaughter charge.”

That will require working with the state’s Department of Forensic Science to determine how to handle autopsies of overdoses to determine what drugs were in the person’s system and the cause of death.

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Ledbetter said Pringle is also tasked with leading the redistricting process in the House, which has not just state but national attention after the surprise U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Alabama’s maps. 

The special session begins on July 17.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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