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Stiffer Sentences for Subjecting Children to Drug Trafficking

This month the House unanimously approved legislation I co-sponsored heightening the penalties for drug dealers who produced and/or sold drugs in the presence of children.  But, the incidents that led to this measure, House Bill 1289, being authored are almost too disturbing to recount.

The idea for the legislation came from Kittanning Police Chief Ed Cassesse in Armstrong County.  After serving warrants on several drug raids involving methamphetamine labs, Cassesse became particularly concerned on March 4, when police entered one house where meth was being cooked – a brew of acid, over-the-counter drugs, and caustic chemicals – and children were sitting on the sofa complaining of skin irritation.

“The children said they had complained to their parents about burning skin and burning eyes, but the parents never sought medical care for them,” Cassesse recalled.

Most disturbing, is how often these situations are occurring in the Commonwealth.

Just three weeks later, on March 24, police raided another meth cooker’s “lab” in a North Sixth Street home near a school in Apollo and found a 4-year-old child in the house.  And last year in the Lehigh Valley, a Salisbury Township man pleaded guilty to cooking meth in the same home where his daughters, ages 2 and 4, lived.  This operation was also just blocks from a school.

“These labs are no longer principally a rural problem,” Cassesse said.  “Supply and demand is causing them to move right into our communities in places you can’t imagine, right next to schools and day care centers.”

And so it was last month right here in Lancaster County that our drug task force raided an East Earl home that is within two miles of three schools on the suspicion of meth production and discovered two children, ages 7 and 11.  Detectives determined that these children had been present during the manufacturing process.  The children were released to the care of a reliable relative, but their mother is now in prison.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman noted that the mother and her 30-year-old male friend recently moved to Lancaster County from Florida specifically with the intention of producing and selling methamphetamine.  The couple used the “Shake n’ Bake” or “One Pot” methods to cook and produce the drug – production methods which are extremely unstable, flammable and explosive.

On top of the health and safety concerns for these children are the untold psychological affects that take lengthy therapy and financial resources to resolve.  Under House Bill 1289, which now moves to the Senate for consideration, persons or guardians who cause children to witness drug trafficking will not only do the required jail time, but the judge would also be empowered to add time to the regular sentence for each child present.

As a conservative, I do not believe that passing a slew of new laws every legislative session is the yardstick for which to measure effective political leadership.  Many times, tweaking existing statutes to make them right and getting rid of obsolete ones are in fact what voters are looking for.  And so, this measure is not a new law, and it is not another “mandatory minimum” sentence. It is a sentencing enhancement tool that judges can use at their discretion when considering the heinousness of a crime and the particular events of each case.

I am hopeful that this measure can move through the Senate quickly and be signed into law by the governor.  Methamphetamine is a drug that destroys families and completely consumes its victims – both their minds and their bodies.  Increasing prison time for exposing children to meth and any other drug trafficking may provide the deterrent needed to make people think twice about doing so.

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