In the wake of increased drug use in Chautauqua County, state Sen. Catharine Young co-sponsored legislation last week to increase penalties for drug dealers who sell to children.
A bill was passed in the Senate to strengthen felony charges for the sale of drugs by an adult to a child under the age of 14, and was sponsored by Jack Martins, R-Mineola.
"We owe it to our children to provide them with the strongest possible protection when they are at such a young and vulnerable age," said Young, R-Olean. "With the abuse of dangerous narcotics on the rise across the state and younger and younger children becoming hooked, it is time for more appropriate sentencing for those drug dealers who prey on our children."
Young added that the Senate is forming the Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction to address heroin abuse.
"It's destroying families and ruining young lives," she said. "This is another step in our mission to tackle this growing epidemic, which is affecting communities across New York."
Under current law, anyone over the age of 21 who sells a controlled substance to a minor under the age of 17 can be charged with a class B felony.
However, the law does not contain an enhanced penalty for selling a controlled substance to younger children.
Class B felonies entail a minimum of 1-3 years and a maximum of 8-25 years in prison. The same goes for armed robbery and drug trafficking.
The bill, which has yet to receive Assembly approval, would make the sale of a controlled substance by an adult over 18 to a minor under the age of 14 a class A-2 felony.
Class A-2 felonies require a minimum of 3-8 years and up to a maximum of life in prison, comparable to involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping and arson.
New York state has multiple classes of felonies, ranging from class E to class A, the most severe.
"The reason it wasn't sponsored in the Assembly is because the challenge you have is to provide a reasonably balanced response to different types of crimes," said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown. "That's extremely difficult. We have these different classifications and we try to balance how serious different crimes are between different classifications."
Furthermore, moving the penalty for sale of controlled substances to children under 14 into the class A felony category would equate those crimes to those involving a high risk of loss of life, like arson or kidnapping.
Goodell said the legislation is referred to as a "one house bill."
"Everyone agrees that selling drugs to kids is a very bad thing and holds long term ramifications," Goodell said, but added that without an Assembly sponsor, it will not be put on the Assembly calendar.
Without full Assembly approval, it will not reach Gov. Andrew Cuomo for full implementation.
Chautauqua County government officials continue to brainstorm how to solve the county's growing substance abuse problem.
A forum was held on Wednesday in Mayville by community leaders, medical personnel and law enforcement officials.
"We want action teams in the areas of prevention, education and treatment," said County Executive Vince Horrigan. "We want these teams to come together, get organized and see how we can make progress in each one of those areas. This is going to be ongoing, and what I want to do is make sure we're addressing this in an open way and then be able to make progress over time."