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Gallagher Applauds Passage of Bill to Fight Meth

5/4/2006

CONTACT:  
Tami Torres or Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

Legislation enhances protections for children and emergency responders
       
TALLAHASSEE—State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher said Florida's children and emergency responders and, ultimately, its communities will be better protected because the Legislature today passed a bill enhancing penalties for methamphetamine manufacturers.
 
"Methamphetamine devastates lives, but not just the lives of those who use the drug," Gallagher said.  "Children are being neglected, first responders are being exposed to toxic fumes and explosions at meth labs, and communities are dealing with the costs of cleanup and rehabilitation.  This legislation will make a significant difference in protecting our communities from this evil drug."
 
House Bill 1325, sponsored by Rep. Faye Culp, was unanimously approved by the Senate today and heads to the governor.  Sen. Carey Baker was the sponsor in the Senate. 
 
The legislation:

• Authorizes the Department of Children and Families to begin dependency proceedings for the immediate removal of children found at meth labs.

• Allows the courts to hold meth producers without bail while awaiting trial.  This provision was included at the request of law enforcement because meth producers, once released on bail, often begin producing the drug again.

• Extends criminal penalties to include firefighters and other emergency response personnel injured or killed while responding to meth labs (third-degree felony if injured; second-degree felony if killed or severely injured).
• Prevents first responders from having life or health insurance canceled because they have tested positive for meth as a result of performing their jobs.  
 
"The number of meth labs found in Florida has increased by 1,100 percent in five years, and that means more children, first responders and communities are at risk," Sen. Baker said.  "We must do all we can to fight back against this insidious drug."
 
Culp said the legislation builds on successful strategies already put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Governor's Office of Drug Control.  "Strategies such as putting cold medicines containing ephedrine behind the counter were a significant first step, but for those who still have not gotten the message that we don't want meth in our state, they will know we mean business when they are left to sit behind bars."

The legislation that passed today contains proposals Gallagher began advocating last June in response to the increase in meth lab seizures and fires in Florida. 
 
The State Fire Marshal's Office has responded to more than 50 meth lab fires and explosions in the last two years.  And, in conjunction with the Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force, the State Fire Marshal's Office has helped educate and prepare hundreds of Florida emergency responders to respond to the dangers these labs pose.  Statistics indicate that more than 1,000 responders in 16 states, including Florida, have been injured responding to meth labs in the past five years, and nearly half of all children found in meth labs test positive for having the drug in their blood.
 
As part of Arson Awareness Week May 7-12, the State Fire Marshal's Office will hold open houses at its regional offices and distribute information to the public about how to spot key indicators of meth activity. 
 
  • Strong chemical odors such as ether, ammonia (smell similar to cat urine) and acetone (smells similar to fingernail polish remover)
  • Evidence of chemical waste or dumping
  • Unusually active human traffic and activity in and out of property or home at odd times of day and night including frequent visitors
  • The frequent burning of "trash" on a property  
  • Curtains always drawn or windows blackened or covered with aluminum foil.
This past weekend in Tallahassee, alert residents complained of a strong odor that made their eyes burn.  Their call to law enforcement led to the arrests of seven people suspected of operating a meth lab.
 
"Meth labs have been found in rural, city and suburban areas, in houses, apartments, motel rooms, vehicles, back rooms of commercial businesses and elsewhere," Gallagher said.  "Everyone has a role to play in fighting this epidemic, and the Legislature's vote today shines a light at the end of this tunnel."