Compromise meth bill passes subcommittee

KEY POINTS* Requires all pharmacies to use the National Precursor Log Exchange by Jan. 1, 2012* Making meth in the presence of children becomes a Class A felony if the child is under 8, or a Class B felony if the child is older than 8.* A pharmacist will be required sell any products containing pseudoephedrine.* Smurfing - going from store to store to buy pseudoephedrine products - becomes a Class A misdemeanor.* A statewide meth study will be conducted over the next year and will be released no later than Jan. 1, 2013.Source: House Bill 1051

After back-and-forth heated debates for the last two months on how to curb the production of meth in Tennessee, a proposal is one step closer to a state House vote.

A bill that would require all pharmacies in Tennessee to log the sales of products containing pseudoephedrine into an electronic database passed out of the House Human Resources Subcommittee Tuesday morning.

"I'm hopeful this is going to work," said Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who sponsored the bill.

But some authorities criticize the bill - House Bill 1051 - arguing that it's a watered-down version that won't stop the scourge of methamphetamine produced in the state.

Law enforcement across the state, including the Tennessee Sheriff's Association, backed another bill that would have made cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug. That bill was killed Tuesday in the subcommittee.

"I'm disappointed that a prescription aspect isn't included," said McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy. "[House Bill 1051] is certainly better to some extent but it's still not going to address the meat of the matter."

Originally, the bill didn't include the electronic database - known as the National Precursor Log Exchange - but lawmakers tacked it into an amendment on Tuesday.

The amendment also changes several drug charges. A suspect arrested for making meth in the presence of a child under 8 years old will be classified as a Class A felony and smurfing - going from store to store to buy pseudoephedrine products - will be a Class A misdemeanor.

The electronic database, which caused controversy among law enforcement who said the Tennessee Meth Task Force already has had a database in place since 2005, will be paid for by the cold medicine manufacturers.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which runs the Meth Task Force, openly opposed the database, arguing that the new system would only set them back.

"We can manage [pseudoephedrine sales] for free," Tennessee Meth Task Force Director Tommy Farmer said in a previous meeting with legislators.

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TBI officials declined to comment on the bill Tuesday.

"We had the opportunity to bring the hammer down," Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, told lawmakers on Tuesday. "But I think we're trying to make too many people happy."

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, the subcommittee's chairman, dismissed the accusations that the bill would not address the meth problem.

"I'm very proud of this," he said. "We've not compromised at the sake of our kids or the sake of our constituents."

Hawk, who also sponsored a prescription-only pseudoephedrine bill, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the current bill will help curb meth production.

"I'm going to give the legislation a chance to work," he said. "But if not, we need to hit this on the head next year."