WASHINGTON - A comprehensive anti-methamphetamine bill that enjoyed broad support was put on the shelf until next year when Congress adjourned this week for the holidays.
The measure was close to final passage but was attached to a controversial anti-terrorism bill, the USA Patriot Act, that was blocked in the final days of the session.
The anti-meth provision would have placed a 3.6 gram limit - about 120 pills - on daily purchases of cold medicines that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, ingredients that can be used to make meth.
It would require retailers to sell the medicines, which include Sudafed, NyQuil and Benadryl, behind store counters.
It also would require companies to report shipments of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine into the United States in an effort to stop ingredients from heading to meth superlabs.
The legislation would also authorize a "Meth Hot Spots" program to steer additional federal grants to local authorities, increase funding for drug courts and toughen federal penalties against meth traffickers.
The Patriot Act, a collection of wiretap and search laws initially passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was reauthorized in the House but blocked in the Senate.
Democrats and four Republicans voted to delay the bill saying they were concerned it did not contain sufficient civil liberties protections for innocent Americans who might get caught in its net, or strong enough requirements for investigators to justify their targes.
Senators compromised to renew the act for six months. But the anti-methamphetamine provisions were dropped in the process.
Senate leaders late Wednesday promised they would revive the anti-meth bill when Congress returns to session early next year.
"We will address those very early when we come back in January or February," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., calling the anti-meth bill an "important issue."
It was unclear Thursday how the House might choose to proceed.
Lawmakers will seek a new way to move the bill forward, either as a freestanding measure or attached to another bill, said Jim Kaiser, a counselor for the House Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee.
"We were under the strong presumption that it would pass," Kaiser said.
Representatives of interest groups following the issue said they were confident the bill would quickly regain momentum.
"I think that this is a setback, but that it's only going to be temporary," said Joe Dunn, associate legislative director for the National Association of Counties. Most local governments regard methamphetamine abuse as a top problem, Dunn said.
"I think it's not an issue of if it's going to pass, but when," Dunn said.
Pubdate: Fri, 23 Dec 2005
Source: Herald Democrat (TX)
Copyright: 2005 Herald Democrat