Betts, Pavalock oppose bill reducing size of drug free zones

State Representatives Whit Betts (R-Bristol, Plymouth, and Terryville) and Cara Pavalock (R-Bristol) are condemning a proposal, which almost completely eliminates the current drug free school zones in Connecticut for anyone who possesses drugs and reduces all felony drug possession charges to a misdemeanor.

Governor Malloy’s proposal passed out of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee at 1 a.m. last Friday on a 22-20 vote, according to a press release from Betts and Pavalock.

The legislation, S.B. No. 952, An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society, would make the possession of any narcotic or controlled substance a misdemeanor offense, said the press release. It also shrinks the current drug-free school zone distance from 1,500 ft. to only include the school property.

“As a parent and as a tireless advocate for children, I find this proposal outrageous,” said Betts in a press release. “There is absolutely no justification in my mind for compromising the safety and well-being of all children and youth. The fact that someone can be caught with two pounds of cocaine or heroin as close as one step off school grounds and only be charged with a misdemeanor is incomprehensible. What’s worse is that it could be said person’s third or fourth offense and they still walk away with a minor violation. What kind of a message are we sending the youngest and most impressionable members of our communities? That it is okay to engage in criminal behavior because the penalty is no big deal? We strive to teach children values and to be responsible and productive members in society, yet this legislation does the very opposite. I will not be supporting this bill.”

Under Malloy’s “Second Chance Society,” the news release from Betts and Pavalock explained, there is no limit on the quantity or type of the possessed drug. This bill will allow anyone to possess up to a kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of narcotics without being charged with a felony, said the release. Also included in the bill is the removal of a graduated penalty scale for repeat offenders where an arrest for any narcotic or controlled substance, a second time, or even a third or fourth time, is treated no different than the first offense.

The release from the GOP legislators said proponents of the bill claim its intent is to give drug offenders a second chance at turning their life around by making drug possession a simple misdemeanor, barring them from a mandatory jail sentence.

The release said top prosecutor and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane disputed the notion that those arrested for first time drug possession are serving time in prison. At a recent public hearing, the news release said, Kane said individuals who commit criminal acts, including possession of illicit drugs, are given multiple opportunities – either diversionary programs or reduced sentences – to avoid criminal convictions.

“As an attorney, I believe in helping people and in giving those who earnestly seek to change, a second chance,” said Pavalock, the release reported. “The fact that this bill is being touted as giving citizens a second chance is on its face disingenuous because most persons incarcerated for drugs have been given multiple opportunities to avoid jail. If the legislature is serious about giving people second chances, I believe that it should focus its efforts on prevention and intervention programs so that we help set people on the right path from the start, rather than amending our laws because we are now making criminal drug activity permissible with a mere slap on the wrist.”

Betts and House Republicans have previously blocked efforts to reduce the size of drug free zones around schools, day care centers and even senior housing, said the news release. But this time around, with strong support from the governor, the plan to eliminate the enhanced penalty for possession in a school zone has real steam, said the release.

Having passed out of committee, the release said, the bill now awaits debate by the legislature.