Keeping kids away from crime

Bill would make it illegal to have child near drug deal

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2000

Drugs, violence and kids.

One of those three things doesn't belong with the others, and last week the state House passed two bills, one to shield children from domestic violence and another to keep kids from watching drugs being used and dealt.

House Bill 180 revises existing law that makes it a misdemeanor - contributing to the delinquency of a minor - to allow a child to be present during a drug deal. The measure expands the crime to include allowing a minor to be present when an illegal drug is made, used or displayed.

Before being approved on a 25 to 11 vote, the bill was altered to remove a provision that would have made it a crime to allow a child to be present when someone was in possession of an illegal drug. That led several lawmakers to question how a parent could know what other people were carrying in their clothes.

Rep. Scott Ogan, a Palmer Republican, said a lot of people use marijuana in his neighborhood. He wondered what would happen if a neighbor came to his home to say ``hi,'' not to get high, and had some pot in his pocket.

``What if someone comes into my house . . . and that person is in possession of an illegal drug and gets busted in my house?'' Ogan asked. ``Am I guilty of child abuse?''

Rep. John Cowdery, an Anchorage Republican, initially resisted removing the possession provision. He said that possessing an illegal drug with a child around should be a crime. Just because it may not be obvious, doesn't make it right, he said.

``Is it OK to lie when nobody knows you're lying?'' Cowdery queried.

Rep. John Davies, a Fairbanks Democrat, said the bill seemed to be another ``lock 'em up'' measure. He said a better approach is to invest in prevention programs than to put another law on the books pushing for prosecution. He said the U.S. has spent tons of money trying to use prisons to solve the nation's drug problems without success.

``The war on drugs hasn't worked,'' he said.

The measure will move to the Senate, barring a reversal of Friday's vote during Monday's floor session.

Though not making it a crime in itself, House Bill 288 would add having children around during a domestic violence crime an aggravating factor during sentencing. With the measure, judges would be able to use the presence of a kid under 16 as a reason for passing stricter sentences.

The bill passed unanimously during Wednesday's floor session.

Rep. Pete Kott, an Anchorage Republican, said studies have shown that domestic violence at home leads to serious problems for children when they grow up. They're more likely to abuse others later in life, he said, and prisons are crowded with people who grew up in an environment where domestic violence occurred.

``The research shows that kids who observe domestic violence are more likely to commit that offense themselves,'' Kott said.

Kott's measure is now waiting for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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