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Alabama To Set 3-Mile Drug-Free Zones Around Schools

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The Alabama legislature has passed what may be one of the nation's toughest penalties for those convicted of selling drugs in the vicinity of schools.

In addition to sentences imposed by the courts for drug trafficking, the new statute would tack on five years of incarceration and deny probation for those convicted of conducting sales within three miles of a public or private school, college or university, or other educational institution.

Gov. Guy Hunt had strongly backed the measure and was expected to sign it by late last week.

Public outrage over the problems of teenage drug abuse and drug-related violence has prompted a grow4ing number of states and communities to enact or consider similar legislation. (See Education Week, April 20, 1989.)

A coalition of educators and law-enforcement officials that launched a campaign for "drug-free school zones" last fall recommended setting a minimum sentence of three years without probation for those convicted of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

That standard is included in the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act passed by the Congress in 1986 and in a 1987 law implemented in New Jersey, which is currently the only state other than Alabama to have established drug-free school zones statewide.

The Alabama bill's sponsor, Senator Roger H. Bedford Jr., said the legislature had adopted a stricter penalty "to send a clear message that if you get caught selling drugs to the schoolchildren of Alabama, you are going to jail for a long, long time."

The bill also was designed, the Democratic lawmaker said, to stem drug-related violence associated with out-of-state youth gangs that have moved into Alabama in order to corner its drug trade.

"We want to send a message not to come to Alabama," he said.

Mr. Bedford sponsored a companion bill that imposes similar penalel10lties for those convicted of selling drugs within three miles of a public-housing project.

He said that he intends to run for state attorney general next year, partly because he "feels strongly about the drug issue" and the need for tougher law enforcement.

The legislature also approved a separate measure that subjects students found with "electronic communication devices" in school to expulsion or suspension.

Mr. Bedford noted that drug dealers frequently use "beepers," or telephone pagers, "as a way to communicate with children about selling drugs." Several urban school districts and a handful of states have enacted similar laws.--dc

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