Gov. Mike Pence toughened sentences for drug dealers Monday, signing legislation that would mandate repeat offenders serve at least 10 years if their crime involves methamphetamine or heroin.
The measure, House Enrolled Act 1235, was included in a bill-signing ceremony the governor held this morning at Hope Academy in Indianapolis, a high school for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
“Drug abuse problems are not unique to our state, but I’m determined to meet this challenge head-on here in Indiana,” Pence said. “To start, I believe that any strategy to address drug abuse must start with enforcement. We need to make it clear that Indiana will not tolerate the actions of criminals, and I’m pleased to sign into law HEA 1235 to increase penalties on drug dealers.”
The other three bills Pence signed focused on treatment and were based on recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Enforcement, Treatment and Prevention. All coming from the Senate, the measures were:
• SEA 271, which repeals the Commission for a Drug Free Indiana and establishes the Indiana Commission to combat Drug Abuse;
• SEA 187, which issues a statewide standing order for overdose intervention drugs, such as naloxone, and is expected to increase access to the medication; and
• SEA 297, which requires Medicaid coverage for inpatient treatment of opioid or alcohol dependence.
HEA 1235 was authored by Rep. Greg Steuerward, the architect of the state’s criminal code reform that took effect July 1, 2014. The bill prohibits a judge from suspending the sentence if the offender has been convicted of a Level 2 controlled substance felony that involves meth or heroin and has a prior conviction for dealing. These felons will now have to serve a minimum of 10 years in state prison.
An analysis by the Legislative Services Agency noted the bill would not significantly increase the Department of Correction’s population. Of the 119 offenders sentenced to DOC as Level 2 felons since July 2014, only 14 had prior convictions for dealing in either cocaine, heroin or meth. And of those 14, four offenders received a sentence of less than the minimum of 10 years.
Still, the Indiana State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and the Indiana Judicial Conference along with the Indiana Public Defender Council spoke out against HEA 1235. They argued the state should continue to emphasize treatment over incarceration and give judges the freedom to impose the sentences they believe are appropriate.
The bill also drew opposition from legislators. Although mostly Democrats voted against the measure, some Republicans, including Sens. Luke Kenley and Pete Miller and Reps. Robert Behning and Dave Wolkins, also cast no votes.
Still awaiting the governor’s signature is Steuerwald’s funding bill, HB 1102, which allows the DOC to make grants of up to $11 million total to county jails for mental health and addiction treatment. The money is coming from savings realized because the criminal code reform is lowering the state prison population by keeping lower-level offenders in the county jails where they can participate in treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Key provisions in the measure emphasize cooperation among the agencies and programs serving offenders. Under the bill, the DOC must coordinate with the Division of Mental Health and Addiction. Also, the counties that seek financial aid must have a plan of collaboration among the probation department and community corrections program along with other local criminal justice agencies such as the courts, prosecuting attorneys and public defenders.
The bill gained overwhelming bipartisan support with the lone no vote coming from Kenley.