Meth and heroin dealers in Indiana will face harsher penalties if they are convicted and have a criminal history under a bill passed by a state Senate panel Tuesday.
The measure that cleared the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee on a 7-2 vote is a narrowed version of the original bill, which sought to stiffen penalties for repeat dealers of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine and controlled substances that bring Level 2 felony charges. Critics said the bill was premature since Indiana's criminal code underwent an overhaul nearly two years ago.
It also drew fire from lawyer groups who said mandatory sentences took discretion away from judges to send people to mental health or addiction treatment programs.
Bill author Rep. Greg Steuerwald, an Avon Republican, said last week his bill was intended to deal with the worst drug dealers since a Level 2 felony is the highest criminal offense for drug dealing.
According to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, which supported the bill, there are 1,518 Level 2 drug-dealing cases currently on file in 86 of Indiana's 92 counties.
The amended proposal aims to crack down on the repeat drug dealers by making it possible for a judge to increase the sentences of convicted drug dealers if they have a previous felony conviction for dealing or making meth or heroin specifically.
"It does require a prior unrelated felony conviction for dealing in a controlled substance except for marijuana, hashish or a synthetic drug," Sen. Tim Lanane, a Muncie Democrat, said of the amendment. "So you have to have that first of all."
Lanane, who proposed the amendment, said a convicted felon also would have to be charged with a Level 2 felony for manufacturing or delivering — or financing the manufacturing or delivery of — heroin or meth for the sentence enhancement to apply.
Lanane's district is a part of Delaware County, which has had the most meth lab seizures out of all Indiana counties for several years.
Still, the bill faced opposition from two Democrats, including Sen. Gregory Taylor of Indianapolis who said it is better to approach Indiana's drug problem by increasing treatment programs for users.
"This bill is going to do nothing to help our methamphetamine problem," Taylor said Tuesday. "Because if you take away one supplier, another one will pop up. We need to address this issue head on and deal with the problem, which is demand."