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A bill designed to help prosecute heroin crimes passed a major hurdle Thursday in the Illinois House of Representatives.
State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) filed House Bill 2582 in February, trying to lower the heroin threshold. Heroin penalties are currently set by weight, and to face a lengthy prison sentence a dealer would have to possess more than 15 grams ? a huge amount.
Mautino wants to calculate heroin by units instead of weight. As proposed, a first-time offender carrying 15 bags or ?tins? (dealers wrap heroin in tin foil) would get a mandatory prison sentence. Second- and third-time offenders would face prison with five or more units.
Armed with a copy of a recent NewsTribune series documenting the area?s growing heroin problem, Mautino took his bill into committee Thursday and left with unanimous approval.
?I expect the bill to receive overwhelming support in the House, and am now in search of Senate sponsors,? Mautino said. ?From the response I got today, I think we?re OK here in the House.?
He said House Bill 2582 could reach the Senate floor by mid-April.
Mautino filed a heroin bill in 2004 requiring prison for small weights of heroin, even for first-time offenders. That bill died; judges, prison wardens and many legislators insisted on probation and treatment for first-timers.
The solution was to model heroin statutes after LSD laws. A sheet of LSD weighs less than a gram but may contain 50 or more doses; a unit-based law enabled prosecutors to crack down on LSD crimes.
Mautino said Thursday?s committee vote proved to be an eye-opener for his fellow legislators. Many assumed, wrongly, that crystal methamphetamine was ravaging the Illinois Valley, and were surprised to find that heroin had migrated here from Chicago.