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Meth bills sidetracked in House subcommittee

Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Lawmaker’s efforts to limit access to pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in the production of meth, have been sidetracked in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

House lawmakers continue to squabble over how much of the cold medicine used to make meth Tennesseans should be able to buy each year.

A proposal backed by the governor would cap the amount at about two months’ worth of pseudoephedrine each year without a prescription.

But that measure and two others got held up in subcommittee. The subcommittee’s chairman, Tony Shipley, instead passed his own, less restrictive bill.

According to Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young, on March 4, law enforcement officials, citizens, reformed meth addict, pharmacists, district attorneys, the commissioner of safety, and Representatives Dave Shephard, Dennis Powers, and David Hawk gathered into a cramped meeting room at the War Memorial Building and testified to Chairman Tony Shipley and his fellow House Criminal Justice Subcommittee members on the need for significant meth legislation.

Young said that three separate bills were presented to the committee.

The first was the governor’s bill by Commissioner of Safety Bill Gibbons and Hawk with an amendment of an annual cap of 14.4 grams (60 day supply, a reduction from the present annual limit of 450 daily dosages).

The second was from Shephard, a pharmacist, on a prescription by pharmacist bill. The third was by Powers on a prescription bill by pharmacist and physician. Senators Doug Overby and Senator Ferrell Haile are carrying the Shepard and Powers bills in the Senate. Young said they have substantial backing from the medical community and two thirds of the citizens in this state, according to a recent Vanderbilt University poll.

Some who showed up to hear the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee proceedings were disappointed when the three favored bills were pushed to the end of the docket without being considered.

Young was among officials who felt the sting of disappointment. In a recent email Young expressed his frustration.

“All three bills were sent to the end of the legislative calendar by Chairman Shipley with no action, while at the same time Chairman Shipley introduced his own bill backed by the Pharmaceutical Industry,” he said. “In all, four bills introduced by members of the committee were advanced. All other bills that seriously address the prevention of meth production in Tennessee were put in the hopper.”

While those who oppose the restriction of the sale of pseudoephedrine may have celebrated the minor victor in the House Subcommittee, the war is far from over. Public support for stronger restrictions and prescriptiononly options continues to grow in the state. The Vanderbilt poll is just one indication of growing public support for restrictions.

Strong support for city ordinances prohibiting the sale of pseudoephedrine products without a prescription has many lawmakers taking the hint that most citizens want something done to curtail the meth epidemic plaguing their communities.

“Pharmaceutical companies are celebrating the simple fact they get to continue selling their products and are making money,” he said. “I understand it is business and a game to them, but it is innocent lives and communities being destroyed to us, and many of those lives are innocent children.

“This is not a game.”

Law enforcement offi cials say that while some of the bills that passed the subcommittee to full committee will provide law enforcement with better tools, none of them will prevent meth production.

“The votes on March 4 were simply votes to continue meth production in Tennessee,” Young said. “This is where a respectful difference in opinion lies and need for a healthy debate.

“We need to work toward prevention through proactive legislation to create an environment where meth labs cannot exist, not reactive through raising taxes to house more prisoners, put more children in foster care, increase funding for Tenncare, filling hospitals with indigent care burn patients, and cleaning up more toxic waste meth labs.

“We need to Stop Meth Production Now.”

Young said that while he was sitting and listening to the House Subcommittee proceeding, he pondered on what the rules and responsibilities of the committee were when considering the advancement of bills to the full committee and House fl oor.

“As a citizen of this state one would hope that it is the responsibility of these members to advance any bill, constitutionally valid, that could have a positive impact on this state or addresses public safety,” he said. “The State of Tennessee per capita ranks number 1 in the nation in Meth Production, number 2 in prescription drug diversion/abuse, and number 1 in violent crime.”

Tennessee leads the nation in meth, use according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TBI officials said they are averaging about five meth lab busts per day at the cost of $5,000 to $25,000 per incident and one child every day rescued from a meth-house environment.

In the past year, meth has cost Tennessee a staggering $1.6 billion between investigations, chemical clean-ups, incarcerations, caring for children of meth addicts in state custody and healing patients burned in meth labs.

Young said the meth issue is a health emergency that needs to be addressed.

“We are presently facing a public health emergency in this state, and any public safety legislation that addresses these issues deserves to be on the House floor where every representative from every district in this state has a voice and an opportunity for a healthy debate,” he said. “This is the only way a free society has a chance of remaining free.”

Young said that although he has been discouraged by a few, he is proud of those who continue to fight and support efforts to stop the meth epidemic in Tennessee.

“I was proud of the many that were present supporting our efforts to protect the innocent children of our communities and state,” he said. “I fully respect every elected representative’s right to vote what they feel is in the best interest of those they represent in their district on the House fl oor, but give my representative the opportunity to represent my district.

“There on the House fl oor you can feel free to vote your will or the will of your district, just not in a committee representing the House of Representatives and the State of Tennessee.”

Young went on to say that he personally sent an email to every representative asking them to be a voice for the innocent children suffering and dying in the state.

“I sadly did not hear that voice on March 4, maybe when we return to the subcommittee later this month we will hear it, I pray we will,” he said.

A few of the bills that passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week include a bill that would require Tennesseans to notify authorities if they discover methamphetamine being manufactured on their property or at their workplace.

Individuals would have to notify police of their discovery within 24 hours or be subject to a misdemeanor punishment.

Another proposal that passed the subcommittee would give the state a better way to count its methamphetamine offenders.

Under current law, if a person is caught producing, selling, or possessing meth, they’re charged with having a controlled substance. Under the new bill that person would be charged with a meth-related crime.

Lawmakers also want to fix the state’s Meth Offender Registry.

The House Judicial Subcommittee is set to meet again on March 18. The three bills that were pushed to the end of the docket could be reconsidered at that time.