Gov. Norm Bangerter unveiled a six-part "zero-tolerance" plan Tuesday to help rid Utah's schools of drug abuse, including a provision that would automatically suspend drivers' licenses for one year.
He also asked that current laws be strictly enforced, requiring that people found with illegal drugs near a school serve a mandatory prison sentence.Bangerter, who plans to ask the legislative judiciary committee to consider making the plan law during the next legislative session, said he wants Utah's schools to be drug-free zones.
"Illegal drug use among our students has been a critical concern," Bangerter said. "I'm a grandfather and a father, and these problems are real in our society."
Bangerter announced the plan after accepting a report on drug abuse from the governor's Commission on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency. The report outlines things schools and families can do to help teenagers avoid drug use and says 40 percent of Utah's students are having serious problems being successful in school, which contributes to drug abuse.
"The biggest problem is self-worth," said Kerry Miller, chairman of the commission. "If a kid experiences failure in school he continues along that path."
Bangerter - who also announced he is one of 11 governors to receive an award for leadership in preventing drug abuse - said his plan is to prevent drug abuse, not to contain it.
He hopes the one-year drivers' license suspension will be a big deterrent for teenagers. Juveniles under the age of 16 who are caught possessing or dealing drugs will have to wait at least one extra year before receiving a license.
The plan also would require people who sell, deliver or transfer dangerous chemicals to be licensed and regulated. Chemicals used to make illegal drugs are too easily available in Utah, said Douglas Bodrero, the state's deputy commissioner of public safety.
"Most of the chemicals are awfully common," Bodrero said, noting law enforcement officials recently have found a number of drug labs in mobile homes. Such drugs often cause serious problems because the labs are not sufficiently sterile, he said.
Other parts of the plan would:
- Require 100 hours of community service for juveniles caught with illegal drugs.
- Amend the Drug Tax Stamp Act, which requires drug dealers to buy state drug stamps before selling illegal drugs. The amendment would give some money from the stamps to law enforcement agencies.
- Provide penalties for people using drug money for other financial transactions in the state.
-Add an additional $150 fine for all drug offenses to support education and rehabilitation programs.
Bodrero said Utah teens appear to be favoring cocaine and alcohol now, rather than marijuana and other harmful drugs frequently abused in the past.
"Youthful drug abuse is like a roller coaster," he said. "Enforcement is never going to control the problem. Education is the issue. Prevention is the issue."