Churches added to anti-drug law

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation that would stiffen the penalties for people convicted of dealing in illegal drugs.

Senate Bill No. 3, approved by the majority of the council last month, gives judges the ability to increase the sentence for people convicted of dealing in cocaine or narcotic drugs, if the crime is committed within 1,000 feet of a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other house of worship.

The bill was authored by Sen. Jeff Drozda (R-Westfield) and is being sponsored in the House by Rep. Linda Lawson (D-Hammond).

A similar bill, HB 1267, adds churches to a list of locations where dealing in illegal drugs is considered a class A felony.

That bill was co-authored by Reps. William Friend (R-Peru) and John Ulmer (R-Elkhart).

Current state law provides penalties for sales that take place within 1,000 feet of schools, family housing complexes or youth program centers, and on school buses, but it does not include churches.

Local officials say they support the Legislature's effort to crack down on drug dealers and hope the proposals are passed into law.

"Yes I support it," Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter said of the legislation. "To me (churches) are just like community centers or schools."

Putnam County Sheriff Mark Frisbie added his support for the plan and said the county has seen its share of drug deals that have gone down in church parking lots.

"It's similar to what we have now at schools," Frisbie said. "I'm not opposed to (the new law)."

Currently there is a separate, but similar, law for dealing in methamphetamines. It includes schools, public parks, family housing complexes and youth program centers but does not include churches.

If approved by the House and signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the new laws would go into effect July 1.

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