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Drug dealing bill killed

March 19, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Senate committee swiftly killed a bill Thursday aimed at curbing drug dealing near preschools.

The action came one day after Hagerstown Police Lt. Margaret Kline testified about an open-air drug market less than a block away from a preschool on West North Avenue in Hagerstown.

"That's unbelievable. I'm really disappointed," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, when he learned that the bill he sponsored had been killed by the Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Munson's bill would have qualified preschools for drug-free zone designations.

Drug dealers caught within 1,000 feet of elementary, middle and high schools face stiffer sentences.

Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's, said he thought the bill was drafted too broadly and could include any school.

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The committee voted it down 8-2 despite the support of committee member Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

The committee also was concerned it duplicated existing law.

But in 1995, the Washington County State's Attorney's Office tried to prosecute someone for dealing near the Martin Luther King Center's Head Start program.

The prosecution failed because the law was not clear, Munson said.

The problem was brought to Munson's attention by Carolyn W. Brooks, coordinator of the Maryland HotSpot Communities program in Washington County.

The building is so close to drug activity that police have used it for drug surveillance, Kline had testified.

Brooks had hoped that expanding the drug-free school zone would deter drug dealing in the area.

Under the law, someone who deals drugs near a school faces extra prison time. A first offense carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. A second offense carries a minimum of five years up to 40 years.

Munson said he will try to address the committee's concerns and bring the bill back next year.

"The fight has just begun," he said.

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