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Pence reinstates mandatory minimum prison terms for drug dealing

Gov. Mike Pence on Monday signs House Enrolled Act 1235, reinstating mandatory minimum prison terms for some drug dealers.

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Mike Pence is toughening his stance toward drug dealers ahead of a likely bruising re-election campaign where he'll have to answer for Indiana becoming the nation's methamphetamine capital on his watch.

The Republican signed into law House Enrolled Act 1235 on Monday, reinstating a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term for a person convicted of dealing meth or heroin who has a prior conviction for cocaine, meth or heroin dealing.

"Drug-abuse problems are not unique to our state, but I'm determined to meet this challenge head-on," Pence said. "We need to make it clear that Indiana will not tolerate the actions of criminals, and I'm pleased to sign into law HEA 1235 to increase penalties on drug dealers."

An analysis of drug-dealing convictions since criminal sentencing reform was enacted in 2014, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, found just four of the 119 individuals convicted of meth or heroin dealing had a prior conviction and were sentenced to less than 10 years in prison — receiving on average 7.5 years.

More concerning for some lawmakers, including state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, is Pence reversing course on his past actions to eliminate mandatory minimums by now reducing the ability of judges to issue the appropriate sentence for each criminal and giving prosecutors the upper hand in plea bargaining with an accused.

"There is no particular reason why we need to have mandatory minimum sentences," Tallian said. "We really get nothing from this bill except to take away the discretion of the judge and the prosecutor to do anything else."

Pence also signed Senate Enrolled Act 290, classifying as a drug dealer any person caught with 28 grams of a controlled substance or more than 10 pounds of marijuana, even if there is no other evidence the person is selling drugs.

In addition, he approved Senate Enrolled Act 80, authorizing pharmacists to deny the sale of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient in methamphetamine — if the pharmacist believes the purchaser does not have a legitimate need for the drug.

Indiana leads the nation in meth lab discoveries, accounting for nearly 16 percent of the U.S. total in 2014, despite comprising only 2 percent of the country's population, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Statehouse Bureau Chief

Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.