By Lexi Browning
For the West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — People who have drugs around kids will face three years in jail if a bill passed out of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse does become law.
House Bill 2648 passed from the committee onto House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The bill increases penalties for adults who assemble or distribute controlled substances in the presence of a minor. If passed, H.B. 2648 would require a mandatory minimum sentencing of three years before parole eligibility if an adult is found guilty of transporting or manufacturing a substance in front of an individual younger than 18. The bill was lead sponsored by Del. Terri Sypolt, R-Preston.
Delegates Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire; Steve Westfall, R-Jackson; Allen Evans, R-Grant; Jill Upson, R-Jefferson; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; Matthew Rohrback, R-Cabell; and Ray Hollen, R-Wirt; co-sponsored the bill.
Del. Sobonya said she initially planned to introduce a similar bill but would instead introduce an amendment to H.B. 2648 in Judiciary to include “possession of a controlled substance in front of a minor.”
“Based upon my concerns for my constituents in the Huntington area, we have such a huge drug problem in my district and the area in general,” Sobonya said. “People are just so outraged to see that parents strap their kids into a car seat and they’ll be found unconscious with needles in their arms, having just taken drugs.”
Sobonya said she had “zero tolerance” for individuals who used, manufactured or transported controlled substances in front of children.
“I know addiction does strange things to people, and I don’t think the people that are addicted know the ramifications of what they’re doing because they’re in that addictive state,” Sobonya said. “But at the same time, there has to be a greater penalty for those that would transport drugs in the presence of children.”
By analyzing surrounding states’ sentencing, Sobonya said, West Virginia can move forward in determining the “right” minimum penalty for those who use or manufacture controlled substances in the presence of children.
“If the penalty minimum needs to go higher, I’m all for that,” Sobonya said.
A penalty minimum would prevent early release for good behavior and could send a “strong message” against tolerance of the behavior, Sobonya added.
“Children deserve better,” Sobonya said. “I hope this would be a deterrent, because as with any penalty, it’s a punishment or a deterrent. Hopefully it can accomplish its purposes and goals.”