The Des Moines Register, Tuesday, March 24, 1998, Page 6M

'Confront the meth problem'

Democrats urge plan to crack down on drug operations


    Statehouse Democrats announced a $4 million proposal Monday to combat methamphetamine use.
    "We hope that our action will force this Legislature to confront the meth problem and put some teeth in our meth-fighting efforts," House Minority Leader David Schrader of Monroe said at a news conference.
    Schrader said the production, distribution and use of meth is "the most serious crime problem facing Iowa today."
    Neither the governor nor Statehouse Republicans, he said, have done anything meaningful" to attack the problem.  That comment, however, was disputed by Republicans.
    "We have been working closely with local and federal officials to address this problem," said Eric Woolson, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad.   "Everyone knows it's a serious problem.  It's unfortunate the Democrats would want to try to politicize this in an election year."
    Republican House Speaker Ron Corbett of Cedar Rapids also questioned the Democrats' motives.
    "It's pretty late in the budgeting process for a proposal like this to make it through the cut," Corbett said, adding that Democrats should have made the proposal in January.  He said, however, that he believes some of the items in the proposal are worth examining in the future.
    Democrats will try to win approval of their proposal during the upcoming debate of the state' s budget bills.  The money is available for the proposal, Schrader argued, because the state presently has a budget surplus.
    He said he wants to make policy, not play politics.
    The drug, also known as crank, ice and speed, first flourished with the motorcycle gangs of the 1960s and 1970s.  But authorities here became especially alarmed in 1994, when drug users started showing up in traffic stops, emergency rooms and schools.
    The proposal by the House Democrats includes money to create a 15-member "meth strike force" to further investigate clandestine meth labs and people involved in manufacturing the drug.
    The plan also would establish a grant program so local law authorities can get more training, more staff members and more equipment to fight meth.
    "The training is needed," Marion County Sheriff Marvin Van Haaften said at the news conference.  "It's a new phenomenon.  It's dangerous.  A lot of these meth dealers are extremely paranoid because of their drug use.  A lot of weapons are involved."
    The Democrats' plan would also boost funding for meth-addiction treatment and would target teenagers with an educational campaign.
    Democratic Rep. Paul Bell of Newton, a police officer, said a new approach to the methamphetamine problem is needed.  Legislators have passed more laws and stricter laws, he said.
    "But it's not working," Bell said.  "Anybody can see it's not working."

Reporter Shirley Salerny can be
reached at
or (515) 284-8131.

The Des Moines Register
Tuesday, March 24, 1998, Page 6M