This story was written Reporter Jolene Almendarez from The Ithaca Voice and is being shared through the Tompkins County News Exchange.
BATH, N.Y. — Congressman Tom Reed said Thursday in a press conference that he is proposing a bill that would allow life imprisonment and the death penalty as possible sentences for people convicted of selling large quantities of heroin if the drug resulted in someone’s death. A separate bill would also allow the same sentences for those who kill a law enforcement officer.
“Now some folks say that’s an archaic and ancient tool [the death penalty], but I will tell you, when that tool is deployed appropriately the bad guys will know that we mean business,” Reed said about a bill he plans to propose in September.
The Help Ensure Lives are Protected act, known as the HELP act, was proposed in September 2016 and, according to the congress.gov, was referred back to the subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations in October.
“In that time, we’ve been gathering additional strength and supporters for the legislation,” he said.
Reed said the HELP Act is meant to target high-level dealers who have 100 grams or more of fentanyl-laced heroin that results in the death of a person. Police officers would be tasked with tracing down drug dealers responsible for selling the deadly laced heroin.
“Finding those bad guys, finding those folks, is obviously a very difficult task…so you rely on law enforcement to do that job and make sure you connect the dots and hold those bad guys — the worst of the worst is what were talking about here, those drug dealers that are preying on our kids and our loved ones — these guys will deliver them to the court of justice,” Reed said, gesturing to officers standing with him.
He said mid-and-low-level dealers would not be targeted for the proposed sentencing, especially because so many of those dealers are also battling with addiction.
It’s important, Reed said, that people with addiction are able to access treatment options, citing the 21st Century Cures Act that was signed into law in December. The act provides, in addition to funding for other health-related issues, $1 billion to states for prevention and treatment services.
Reed said it’s the multi-pronged approach of prevention, awareness, treatment and law enforcement efforts that will help calm the opioid epidemic.
“If you just approach it from a law enforcement arrest and jail type of position, you’re not going to deal with this issue and..we saw the evidence of that back in the 90s in my opinion,” he said.
Reed’s approach to addressing the opioid epidemic appears to be similar to pillars outlines in The Ithaca Plan: prevention, treatment, law enforcement and harm reduction, the last of which also calls for a supervised injection facility in Ithaca.
Reed said he does not support injection facilities.
“I don’t believe that is a solution to this problem…To me that is a Band-Aid, if you would. It is an enabling type of message sent from the government and, in my opinion, that’s not the right message to send.”
He said he has not spoken to law enforcement in cities, such as Vancouver, where law enforcement officials publicly supports the injection facilities.
The Thin Blue Line
At the press conference, Reed also discussed The Thin Blue Line Act, which would allow for the death penalty and life imprisonment to be considered in federal capital cases where a police officer is killed.
“If one of our law enforcement officers happens to be killed in the line of duty, then we believe it is appropriate that the death penalty also be applied an available to our prosecutors to send the message that we will never forget our law enforcement officers and make sure that we stand with them….to send the message to the bad guys that you will be held fully accountable for an egregious action such as killing one of our officers,” Reed said.
That bill, which Reed voted for in May, has passed the House of Representatives.
“With the death penalty and the life in imprisonment (for both bills), obviously we are looking for opportunities, as we speak. That may be a longer term push because some folks are just adamantly opposed to the issue of the death penalty…,” he said.