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Lawmakers vow to get tough on meth makers

"OLYMPIA - Lengthier jail terms and, in some cases, life sentences, could be in store for convicted methamphetamine manufacturers if House Bill 1197 gains enough legislative support in the coming weeks.Already wary of the growing number of meth labs that seem to keep cropping up in Kitsap County and across the state, officials here are keeping tabs on any action toward reforming sentencing laws.Introduced by freshman state Rep. Dave Morell, R-Puyallup, the measure calls for reclassifying the crime of manufacturing meth from a Type B to a Type A felony.As it stands now, the maximum jail time judges can currently hand down to convicted meth manufacturers is 10 years. But if lawmakers approve Morell's bill, the crime would be considered part of the three-strikes-you're-out list, putting habitual meth producers at risk of landing sentence of life in prison. Manufacturers of meth make a product that ruins lives, breaks apart families, kills children, pollutes the environment and generally leaves a brutal path of destruction in its wake, said Morell in a written statement. The freshman lawmaker also sits on the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee and serves as the assistant Republican Whip in the house. The only end result of their product is human catastrophe, so the Legislature and this governor have a public duty to do more to stop these people, he said. While local lawmakers and Kitsap County officials commend the bill's attempt to hold meth manufacturers accountable, some wonder if the bill, in the end, is an appropriate remedy for what many call a growing meth epidemic.Do we need to send meth manufacturers away for longer than 10 years, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge wondered allowed. Yes. But should they be sent away for life? No.The three-strikes list is reserved for those who commit particularly violent felonies involving bodily harm, Hauge said. California, he added, imposed a similar three-strikes change in sentencing laws regarding drug convictions and, as a result, their prisons are flooded while funds for public schools have dried up.In other words, life sentences historically haven't strongly deterred drug dealers. Hauge, who is also serving as the legislative chairman of the state Prosecuting Attorneys' Association, said he is keeping a more hopeful eye on a legislative package that calls for restricting the sale of precursor drugs that, once mixed, create meth. These items generally can be purchased just about anywhere.That legislative package includes HB 1370, co-sponsored by Rep. Brock Jackley, D-26th District, Rep. William Eickmeyer, D-35th District, and Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-23rd District, and SB 5405, co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Oke, R-26th District.We haven't considered passing a law like that locally because it's far better to accomplish that at the state level, said Hauge, who also served on a committee appointed by Gov. Gary Locke that also studied the meth problem. If we just enacted a law like that in Kitsap County, someone could travel to Belfair to purchase the necessary items. However, if the measures don't get anywhere this session, then we'd consider doing something locally.Already, Hauge and other officials throughout the county are working together to fight the effects meth abuse can level on families, neighborhoods and children.To that end, members of the Drug Interdiction Task Force of Kitsap County, also led by Hauge, met Jan. 25 in Silverdale to discuss ways the meth problem can be stamped out for good.Composed of representatives from various law enforcement agencies, schools, the health district and other social services, task force members met to set measurable goals to be focused on in the coming months.Members have much work to do.And statistics do show they have their work cut out for them. The number of illegal meth labs discovered in all corners of the state skyrocketed from 38 in 1990 to nearly 790 in 1999. What's worse is that children have been present at nearly half of the meth labs discovered by law enforcement officials, lawmakers say. Meanwhile, since meth labs appear to be spreading out of control not only in Pierce County, but across the state and in Kitsap, Morell said he plans to use his position on the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee to crack down on meth labs and make meth cookers public enemy No. 1. "

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