That was the top priority expressed by TPSC members during a Thursday meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board and newsroom staffers.
“We can do a Band-Aid on it or we can really try to fix it,” Kingsport Police Chief David Quillin said of Tennessee’s meth problem, which cost the state approximately $2 million to clean up 1,691 meth labs last year.
Still, TPSC members also said they support Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative proposal to align commonly purchased amounts of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine with 30-day limits.
“We understand the reality of the legislature,” said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch, who indicated Haslam’s bill will be amended to include smaller per gram purchases of meth precursors products. “While we didn’t get what we want, we understand what the governor is offering is reasonable, and it will make an impact. And so we are supporting the governor.”
Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said there’s a perception the public won’t support a pseudoephedrine or ephedrine by prescription only law.
“I think if the politicians understood and we were able to educate the public statewide, there should be the political will to do this,” Staubus noted. “... If we could reduce those costs to more effectively control the (meth) problem, ... we think there is the political will. ... A Vanderbilt poll says 70 percent of Tennesseans support a prescription only solution. We think it’s practical and will reduce manufacturers.”
A second legislative priority TPSC noted was to pass tightly worded legislation that would prevent certain disclosures of information regarding victims of sexual offenses.
“In this electronic age we’re in, we’re not worried about (newspapers, which do not publish names of sexual offense victims), what we’re worried about is ... (the gossip website) TMZ,” Rausch explained.
A third and recurring item TPSC advocated was to create more than 30 more assistant district attorney general positions across the state.
“The (district attorneys) conference has been very understaffed,” said 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark. “A study was done that showed we are 130-some attorneys short for the cases we are handling. ... We have asked for more people. ... All law enforcement agencies have grown. ... There are new laws and there is more enforcement, there’s more work. We’ve had the same number of attorneys in my office that we had 10 years ago. We ask our legislators for this, and it never gets put in the governor’s (budget) package.”
Lastly, Staubus trumpeted legislation that would allow law enforcement to prosecute a pregnant mother for assault if the child is born addicted to or harmed by the woman’s illegal use of narcotic drugs. The bill also calls for criminal homicide charges if the child dies as a result of the woman’s illegal drug use. A third element of the bill would allow the mother to enroll in an addiction recovery program in her defense.
Staubus pointed to the sharp rise in drug-dependent newborns documented by the Tennessee Department of Health.
“My hands are tied to hold that person responsible or stop that cycle,” Staubus said. “... I have been to the neonatal facility at Holston Valley (Medical Center) ... the (drug-dependent) children there have a high-pitched scream. ... They have to be rehabilitated. The cost of that is $35,000 to $60,000 depending on the facility per child. ... Our state is one of the top drug-dependent (newborns) states in the nation.”
TPSC consists of district attorneys general, police chiefs and county sheriffs.
For more about legislation advocated by the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The anti-meth bill is SB 2331. The disclosure bill is SB 2254. The bill to add more prosecutors is HB 417. The bill to prosecute drug-addicted mothers is HB 1519.