Raleigh, N.C. — The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to enact stiffer penalties for people who cook up batches of methamphetamine.
House Bill 29 passed by a 116-1 vote and was sent to the Senate.
Under the bill, anyone previously convicted of manufacturing or possessing meth would be barred from obtaining any product that contains pseudoephedrine. The chemical, which is common in cold medications, is the primary ingredient used to make meth.
The legislation also calls for longer prison sentences for people convicted of making meth if a child, disabled person or elderly person lives in the house where the drug was being made.
"We're fighting one of the most insidious drug issues in this state," said bill sponsor Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. "Every county in this state has a meth problem."
State Bureau of Investigation agents cleaned up 460 meth labs across North Carolina last year, up from 344 the preceding year and 235 in 2010. More than 70 labs have been located so far this year, according to the state Department of Justice.
Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, another bill sponsor, said the drug is difficult to combat because it is so addictive and so easy to make.
"Go to the drugstore, stop in the aisle at the local Walmart, pick up a few things, step back to the back of the building and mix them in a bottle and either a bomb goes off or another group of people is using drugs," Faircloth said.
Attorney General Roy Cooper applauded the bill, noting that the "one-pot method" of cooking meth is widespread and requires only a small amount of pseudoephedrine and a plastic bottle.
"Meth labs of any size can be especially dangerous for kids and other vulnerable people. Too often, our agents find innocent children and seniors living in homes where meth is being made,” Cooper said in a statement.
Statewide, 120 children were removed from homes last year where meth was being manufactured, up from 82 in 2011, according to the Department of Justice. So far this year, 14 children have been found living around meth labs.
When anyone is removed from a meth lab home, their clothing and other belongings usually have to be destroyed because of the hazardous fumes given off during the cooking process.
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, cast the lone vote against the bill, saying he thought punishing anyone who previously possessed meth for having cold medicine goes too far.
“What if somebody really has cleaned up their life, and years later, they go get some cold medicine and suddenly they’re in jail?” Speciale said. “If it had been just (penalties for) manufacture, I might have voted for it.”
Tax credit for working poor to expire
The House also voted 80-36 to give final approval to a bill that allows the state earned-income tax credit expire at the end of 2013 and updates North Carolina tax codes to match changes in the federal code.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, acknowledged the bill's passage was "a fait accompli," but he still argued vehemently against the bill, saying it would hurt the working poor.
"All I'm asking is that you let those poor people who get this little bit of money keep the little bit of money and not go out on the poverty lines," Michaux said.
Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, called the end of the EITC "another nail in the coffin of poor people."
Defeating the bill also would cost taxpayers who take deductions for student loan interest, mortgage insurance and other items, said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.
House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes noted that Democrats approved the expiration of the EITC when they controlled the legislature in 2007. It was supposed to end last year, but lawmakers extended it for one year.
"For too long, we've used our tax code to implement social policy as opposed to using the tax code to promote economic growth," said Starnes, R-Caldwell.
Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, said 30 percent of the claims for the EITC are fraudulent.
"Anyone who wants to extend the fraudulent earned-income tax program ... is free to do so" by filing a separate bill, Howard said.