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Old 01-31-2005, 05:59 PM
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Default Lawmakers want to get tough on meth

Lawmakers want to get tough on meth

By Mary Madewell
The Paris News

Published January 31, 2005

Legislative help may be on the way to combat the increase in methamphetamine production, distribution and consumption in the Red River Valley.

The meth problem is severe and dangerous for both users and law enforcement officers engaged in the fight to curb the manufacture, sale and use of the street drug that grows in popularity.

Two lawmakers have filed bills in Austin to curtail the availability of the solid tablet form of psuedoephedrine and to increase penalties for meth makers and users.

Psuedoephedrine hydrochloride, found in common cold medications including Sudafed and Claritin-D, is the key ingredient in methamphetamine.

State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has filed a package of bills for 79th Texas Legislature consideration. The legislative package seeks to prohibit over-the-counter sales of tablets containing psuedoephedrine and increases prison sentences for meth producers, sellers and users.

“I am declaring war on the methamphetamine epidemic that plagues North Texas and, indeed, the entire state,” Estes said late last year when filing his package.

SB 107 would prohibit over-the-counter sales of single entity forms of psuedoephedrine, but would still allow for liquid, gel capsule and liquid capsule form in which psuedoephedrine is not the only active ingredient. The bill would fine stores selling such medicine to anyone not having a prescription.

“It is critical that the Texas Legislature do all we can to eradicate this terrible drug that destroys lives, ruins families and ravages communities,” Estes said.

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, filed comprehensive legislation in HB 164 that would restrict the sale of over-the-counter-tablets to licensed pharmacies only, eliminating sales in convenience stores and other locations.

Berman’s bill calls on pharmacies to become active in self-regulation and requires that tablets containing pseudoephedrine be taken off open shelves and that strict records be kept by wholesale distributors as well as at the point of purchase.

Similar to a law passed last year in Oklahoma, the bill would require buyers to show photo identification and sign for the purchase. The bill limits sales by a pharmacy to any one person to 9 grams of pseudoephedrine in a 30-day period.

HB 164 also calls for the establishment of a state methamphetamine watch program to inform retailers of the problems associated with the illicit manufacture and use of methamphetamine in the Lone Star State.

Under Berman’s proposal, the Department of State Health Services would establish procedures and develop forms for retailers and other persons to use in reporting incidents of theft, suspicious purchases or other transactions involving products used in “cooking” meth.

Those products include red phosphorus, anhydrous ammonia, alcohol, methanol, iodine, lye, sulfuric acid, muriatic acid and lithium or sodium wire.

The health department would also be called upon to develop programs to increase awareness and to assist local communities in addressing problems created by meth use.

Berman’s bill also calls on the criminal justice division of the governor’s office to assist public and private organizations to engage in initiatives to support the methamphetamine watch program.

District 1 state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, supports his fellow senator’s efforts but said that he worked closely with fellow Tyler lawmaker Berman in developing HB 164.

“I fully support the effort and will do everything to see that we get something in place,” Eltife said. “We want to do whatever it takes to put a stop to this wholesale production of methamphetamine.”

Both Berman’s bill and Estes’ package increase criminal penalties for the manufacture, distribution or use of methamphetamine.

SB 108 enhances penalties. Current law punishes violations of less than 1 gram with a mandatory state jail felony which, in most cases translates into automatic probation.

“My proposed legislation is much tougher and would redefine these offenses as third-degree felonies punishable by prison sentences served in the state penitentiary,” Estes said.

SB 110 is aimed at punishing anyone associated with the manufacture or distribution, not just the “meth cooks.”

“This is targeted at any conspirators who are involved in cooking a batch of meth,” Estes said. “It covers everything from people helping collect the ingredients to someone who rents a motel room where meth is being cooked in a makeshift lab. We need to enlarge the net to catch and punish anyone playing any part in these criminal activities,” Estes said.

SB 109 would enhance penalties if a child younger than 18 years old is present on the premises where meth is produced or distributed.

“We, as a society, must get serious about eradicating methamphetamine and the toll it continues to take in our homes, in our schools, and in places of work,” Estes said. “It continues to play a major role in child abuse and neglect, and it fuels property and identity theft crimes.”

Critics of Estes’ proposal to increase criminal penalties say that incarcerating more drug users would overload Texas prisons already on track to exceed capacity before the 80th Legislature meets in 2007.

But Estes says increased penalties are necessary to curb the meth epidemic.

“The methamphetamine drug culture is, without question, the most pressing crime problem facing our state, and it’s time for the Texas Legislature to pass some tough, new laws to fight this serious war.”

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