NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Two state lawmakers have filed legislation that would allow meth-making parents to be charged with child abuse or neglect even if the child has suffered no apparent harm from exposure to the illegal drug.
The bill, SB1438, filed last week by State Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Dale Carr for consideration when the General Assembly returns to work in January, revises provisions of current law that requires prosecutors to prove there has been physical injury as a result of exposure to the manufacture of methamphetamine.
”Charges should not hinge on whether physical injuries are visible on the child at the time of discovery of the meth lab,” said Overbey in a statement. “Problems with exposure can occur later, as well as obvious psychological problems the child incurs due to involvement of their parents or guardian in this kind of criminal activity.”
Overbey, R-Maryville, and Carr, R-Sevierville, said the proposed legislation grew out of discussions with Detective Mike Seratt with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office and has also been discussed with the Blount County Child Protective Investigation Team. Since October authorities in that East Tennessee county have arrested several people alleged to have been making or possessing ingredients to make meth.
Tennessee is among the top producers of home-made methamphetamine in the nation. Within the state, Anderson, McMinn, Putnam, Carter and Sullivan counties report some of the highest rates of meth lab seizures, according to the Tennessee Methamphetamine Task Force.
Earlier this month, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation chief Mark Gwyn warned during a budget appearance before Gov. Bill Haslam that the state could soon become the national leader in meth lab production.
Gwyn also noted that Tennessee does not require a prescription for consumers to purchase cold-fighting medicine that contains pseudoephedrine, a key component in meth production.
The Methamphetamine Task Force, which combats meth production, has championed a prescription bill. Oregon and Mississippi mandate such prescriptions and say meth production has dropped as a result. Opponents including drug makers, however, say such a law creates too much of a burden for consumers.
In 2005, the state established a meth offender registry that was supposed to be used to alert pharmacists when a meth offender tries to buy pseudoephedrine. Legislators followed up in 2011 with a law requiring the registry to be connected to a system that pharmacists use to identify customers who have purchased the legal limit of pseudoephedrine. By consulting the system, pharmacists can refuse to sell pseudoephedrine to those who have been convicted of meth-related crimes over the previous seven years.
Task Force director Tommy Farmer, however, has acknowledged the registry does not include all the names of convicted offenders in Tennessee.