In Salt Lake City, the front line of the drug war may be closer to children than many people may have realized.

Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Chabries said Community Council members have given him hypodermic needles they collected around school yards about the city."We're finding drug activity congregates where youth activities congregate," Chabries said, addressing the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Chabries appeared in support of HB176, which would expand "drug-free zones" and result in stiffer penalties for pushers caught selling drugs at preschools, sports arenas and shopping malls.

Sponsored by Rep. Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan, the bill would expand drug-free zones into all areas where children congregate including child-care centers, parks, arcades, churches, stadiums and theaters.

Anyone caught selling drugs within 1,000 feet of the zones could be found guilty of a first-degree felony and be sentenced to a minimum-mandatory five-year to life prison term.

"With the passage of this bill, we would have the toughest laws in the country in regards to drug free zones," Frandsen said.

The bill is endorsed by Gov. Norm Bangerter, who called for enhanced protection of children from drug dealers in his state-of-the-state address: "Let's send a message to those who dare to deal drugs in this state: Stay away from our children."

The committee voted out the bill favorably.