Legal chokehold on meth epidemic

CARSON CITY -- Fighting that summer cold is going to get a bit more complicated starting Aug. 1.

But Assembly Bill 148, signed into law Thursday by Gov. Jim Gibbons, will also make life tougher for methamphetamine manufacturers to make the illicit drug, which is the intent of the bill passed by the 2007 Legislature.

The measure restricts access to common cold remedies containing substances used to make meth. Starting in about six weeks, such remedies will only be sold behind the counter at pharmacies. A prescription won't be required.

The remedies are more widely available now, including at convenience stores.

Gibbons said the measure was a bipartisan product of lawmakers with input from state and law enforcement officials. He signed the bill in front of the Capitol, joined by law enforcement officials, lawmakers and others.

"This bill will say to methamphetamine manufacturers that Nevada is no longer open for their business," Gibbons said. "We are taking a significant step forward in the war against methamphetamine."

The bill also increases penalties for those who manufacture, sell and distribute drugs.

A competing bill, Assembly Bill 150, would instead have required convenience stores to report quarterly their sales of drugs such as Sudafed, but retailers said that requirement was burdensome. The bill did not pass.

The provisions in AB148 were just part of an overall effort by Gibbons and lawmakers to fight methamphetamine production and abuse in Nevada.

Gibbons made the fight against methamphetamine a major theme in his first State of the State speech in January.

Funding was increased for prevention and treatment and for increased law enforcement activities in the state budget, and some funding for a methamphetamine working group was provided as well.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said other important provisions are in the bill, including a requirement for pharmacies to notify law enforcement if quantities of the cold medicines are stolen or go missing.

"Law enforcement is working with retailers to combat this drug, and that's what we needed," Cortez Masto said. "This is just the beginning. This is not the end of the road for us."

The bill was signed with some fanfare, unlike another measure, Senate Bill 112, which contains many of the same provisions as AB148. The Senate bill was sought by Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, who ran for governor against Gibbons. He signed it into law on May 31.

Other measures signed into law by Gibbons on Wednesday and Thursday include:

• Assembly Bill 483, which raises the homestead exemption from $350,000 to $550,000 on July 1. Those who have filed exemptions will get the increase automatically. The bill also raises the amount that can be sought in a tort claim against a governmental entity to $75,000 from $50,000 on Oct. 1. It rises to $100,000 on Oct. 1, 2011.

• Assembly Bill 232, which requires pharmacies to make information about the costs of commonly prescribed drugs available to consumers.

• Senate Bill 549, which changes requirements for collecting signatures for initiative petitions. Under current court rulings, all signatures required to put a measure on the ballot can be collected in one large county, such as Clark or Washoe. The new measure would change the formula to give more weight to smaller, rural counties.

• Senate Bill 516, which increases the pay for elected county officials over four years. In Clark County, the pay for sheriff would increase July 1 to $143,661 from $134,263. By fiscal year 2010-11, the pay would be $156,983. Clark County commissioners, who make $68,390 now, could vote to increase their pay July 1 to $90,080. By fiscal year 2010-11, the pay could be increased to $101,328 a year.

• Senate Bill 237, which lets a person holding a concealed weapons permit issued by another state carry a concealed firearm in Nevada under some circumstances.

• Assembly Bill 510, increasing the number of good time credits prison inmates can receive. The measure is intended to help relieve Nevada's overcrowded prison system.

• Senate Bill 409, which requires insurance companies to cover cervical cancer vaccine and prostate cancer screenings.

• Senate Bill 471, which toughens Nevada's sex offender laws. It has provisions sought by Gibbons and Titus, including a provision that the worst, or Tier 3, sex offenders, cannot live within 1,000 feet of a place used primarily by children.

• Senate Bill 238, which creates policy requirements for Nevada's empowerment schools. Money for the program, sought by Gibbons and others, is in another measure.