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Statehouse says yes to meth house database

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

The proliferation of methamphetamine in Indiana has often led state lawmakers to target the over-the-counter cold and allergy medications that contain the pseudoephedrine needed to make meth.

Since the 2009 session of the Indiana General Assembly, at least one bill has been introduced either limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine-containing medications that can be bought, or making the over-the-counter remedies available only with a prescription. In 2013, multiple bills were offered during the session.

mcnamara McNamara

The meth bill that passed during the 2014 session turns attention away from the ingredients and to the contamination left behind by active meth labs. House Enrolled Act 1141 establishes an online database where potential homebuyers and renters will be able to see if their property was the site of a lab.

“(The bill is) not really about preventing meth labs,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Niki Crawford, methamphetamine suppression section commander. “It’s just basically getting information out there to potential property purchasers.”

Crawford pointed out that only the meth labs discovered by the state police will be listed. Any clandestine labs that never attracted the attention of law enforcement will likely remain undisclosed.

Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, authored the measure after seeing the impact of methamphetamine in her district which encompasses parts of Posey, Gibson and Vanderburgh counties. She has felt the negative impact from production of the illegal drug – a meth lab blew up a mile from her residence. She has spoken with individuals who want something done to curb the proliferation of meth, including an appraiser who became sick after inspecting an unknown meth house.

McNamara’s legislation gives the Indiana State Police the task of creating and maintaining the database. Properties that were former meth labs will only be listed if the site is not cleaned within six months of the lab being discovered. Once a residence has been decontaminated, it will be removed from the directory within 90 days.

HEA 1141 passed through both chambers in the Statehouse with unanimous approval. Sen. Randy Head, a former deputy prosecutor, sponsored the measure in the Indiana Senate.

“I think it’s a great bill,” the Logansport Republican said. “It’s not an idea whose time has come; it’s past due.”

Initially, Head said, some real estate agents did not like the bill, but once provisions were added that enabled decontaminated homes to be removed from the database, the organization was supportive. Also, as a concession to landlords, apartments that have been sites of meth labs are not identified by the address of the entire apartment complex.

The Indiana Association of Realtors described this bill as a positive step forward both because it provides greater awareness and it protects real estate agents by identifying property that could be contaminated, according to Maggie McShane, senior vice president of government affairs at the association.

The association supports disclosure of former meth labs, McShane said, but it also considers delisting cleaned homes from the database to be very important. Properties should not be blackballed once they are certified clean.

“I think this bill is a good first step in regards to real estate industry in what we do to address awareness to meth contamination and to ensure that Realtors are protected when they go onto a property,” McShane said.

The idea of creating and putting such a listing online for the public is not new. Originally, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute was tasked with establishing the database but, according to McNamara, the funding never came and the index was never built.

For several years, state police have been maintaining a database of lab sites for internal use, according to Crawford. With this bill, the state police will fortify the listing, which goes as far back as 2007, with reports from health departments, fire departments and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Also, while decontaminated homes and apartments will be taken off the database, the ISP’s website will have a link to those properties’ cleanup reports kept by IDEM. Potential homebuyers will be able to access information about the remediation of the residences.

“We didn’t want the public to get confused by the contaminated versus decontaminated property,” McNamara said. The cleaned domiciles were “taken off (the ISP database) for economic reasons as well as confusion reasons.”

McNamara explained that the database would help neighborhoods economically by preventing houses that were once meth labs from becoming sources of blight. Instead, families and individuals will have the confidence to buy these houses, knowing they have been treated by certified professionals and are no longer a health hazard.

State police are taking another step toward making the database a “one-stop shop” for consumers by also including a listing of VIN numbers from vehicles that were once mobile meth labs. Buyers of used cars will be able to check if their vehicle has encountered meth.

During the 2013 legislative session, Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, was successful in getting his methamphetamine vehicle information disclosure bill passed and signed by the governor. This measure required dealers and sellers to tell the buyer if meth had been manufactured in the vehicle within the previous two years.

The state police are currently working with the Indiana Office of Technology to get the database online.

“This is a good thing for the public,” Crawford said. “We’re anxious to get this thing up and running.”•

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