Panel OKs heroin penalty hike

A state Senate panel advanced legislation Tueday morning that could bring 99 year prison sentences for distributors of heroin.

The measure comes with heroin-related deaths soaring, particularly in south Louisiana, with attempts to discourage those responsible for the drug distribution.

“The point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to kill a snake you don’t cut off the tail, you cut off the head,” said bill sponsor state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.

Senate Bill 87 would give judges the discretion of imposing a 99 year prison term. Under current law the maximum sentence is 50 years. The mandatory minimum sentence of five years would stay in effect.

When he was a prosecutor in Orleans Parish years ago, heroin distribution brought a life sentence, Claitor said.

“The people distributing heroin deserve it” because the drug is a death sentence for some, Claitor said. He said the drug is also a life sentence for others because when people get on they never get off of it.

“If I had my druthers, I’d go back to life,” Claitor said.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary C shipped the legislation to the Senate floor for further debate.

State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, noted the rash of heroin overdose deaths occurring in East Baton Rouge, with the coroner arriving with the deceased “still having a needle in their arm.”

From 2012 to 2013, the number of heroin deaths increased from 5 to 34 in East Baton Rouge and the trend is continuing this year.