DENVER, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- Gov. Bill Owens Tuesday announced plans to expand the crackdown on methamphetamine labs in Colorado with new legislation protecting children endangered by the illegal labs.
"Law enforcement tells us that more than a third of seized meth labs are in homes where children reside," the governor told a news conference. "That is unacceptable."
Owens was accompanied by state legislators who will sponsor the three bills in the upcoming session. Two bills would expand the definition of child abuse to include manufacturing a controlled substance in the presence of a child and the third makes knowingly selling chemicals to manufacture meth a misdemeanor crime.
"In the last eight months, the North Metro Task Force alone has removed 11 children ranging from 9 months to 8 years of age from homes where their parents or grandparents were manufacturing methamphetamine," said Lt. Lori Moriarty. "In every incident the children were not only exposed to the hazardous materials, equipment and deadly by-products produced, but they had access to the illegal drugs as well. This is an extremely dangerous environment these children live in, and we must find a way to protect them from this abuse. All of these bills are a step in the right direction."
According to the North Metro Task Force, law officers closed 150 labs in the state in 1999. In 2000, the number rose to 264, and in 2001 there were 452 labs shut down. This year, law enforcement has closed a record number of labs.
"Meth labs pose multiple dangers to children -- the vulnerable and voiceless victims -- and we see these bills as another area in which Colorado can be a leader in protecting our children and our future," said Kathryn Wells, a pediatrician with the Kempe Child Protection Team at the Children's Hospital.
Meth is the No. 1 drug problem in Colorado.
Last year, Colorado enacted laws that make it illegal to possess the supplies, equipment, or chemicals used to produce meth. A second law makes it a felony to stockpile large quantities of pharmaceutical precursors with the intent to manufacture the drug.