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OD deaths prompt call for dealers' registration

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Convicted drug dealers should be required to register with the state as convicted sex offenders do, said state Sen. Kim Ward.

The Hempfield Republican last month introduced a bill that would require drug dealers convicted of a third offense to enter their names into a computerized state public registry similar to the sex offender's registry under Megan's Law. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The measure is in response to a surge in drug overdose deaths and proliferation of prescription drug abuse, the senator said.

“We were having such a drug issue in this area and I started attending meetings of Sage's Army. They said, here are some things that we think can make a difference,” Ward said.

The impetus for the bill, called “Sage's Law,” is the 2012 death of Sage Capozzi, 20, of Irwin who overdosed on heroin. His father, Carmen Capozzi, created Sage's Army, a nonprofit, grassroots organization that educates teens about drug dangers.

Under the proposed legislation, once a dealer is convicted of a third offense, he or she would be required to register with the state police as soon as freed from prison, placed on probation or released on parole. The data would include personal and biographical information, arrest and conviction details, place of residence, phone numbers and a photograph.

The database must include public access.

Ward said under current law, a defendant convicted a second time of drug offenses is subject to increased penalties. The requirements of her bill could be tightened as it proceeds through the legislative process.

“We may be looking at making a little adjustment,” Ward said. “This was a starting point just to get the bill off the ground. I feel confident we're going to be able to get this done.”

The convicted drug dealer would be required to notify police in the jurisdiction where he resides, as convicted sexual predators must. Police would be responsible for alerting neighbors when a convicted drug dealer moves into the area.

A number of other states have created registries or introduced legislation to start databases for drug dealers and other offenders.

California has established a drug dealer database, but it is not accessible to the public. Tennessee created a registry for methamphetamine offenders. Connecticut lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require violent offenders to register with the state.

Andy Hoover, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Harrisburg, said Megan's Law has withstood constitutional challenges.

He called Ward's bill a “continuation of the war on drugs mentality, which has been a failure. It's in the opposite direction of where we're going with drug policy. It's hard to image this bill moving and passing.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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