Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) called today for an overhaul of Virginia's drug laws, targeting "kingpins" with $10,000 bounties, mandatory prison sentences and a new state police division to eradicate illegal narcotics.
"I say this to the kingpins out there: If you make money off of crack, cocaine [or] heroin, we're going to put a price on your head," Gilmore said at a Capitol news conference. "We're going to find you, arrest you, prosecute you and put you in prison for the rest of your life."
Gilmore announced the Substance Abuse Reduction Effort, or Sabre, six weeks before voters decide the balance of power in an evenly divided General Assembly, and some legislative and local candidates said his comprehensive program would help their campaigns on a range of anti-crime issues.
At the same time, even Gilmore's ardent allies predicted tough going for Sabre when lawmakers return to Richmond in January.
"You're going to have a lot of opposition in the legislature," said Del. John H. "Jack" Rust Jr. (R-Fairfax), a lawyer who sits on a key House committee that has long been skeptical of the kind of mandatory jail terms Gilmore is proposing.
Opponents of such measures argue that judges ought to have broad discretion in deciding what sentences to impose, allowing them to take evidence and trial arguments into full account.
Gilmore noted that drug use in Virginia has climbed while violent crime has declined, and he proposed lowering the threshold definition of a "kingpin" to make it possible to obtain mandatory life sentences in cases involving 2.2 pounds of heroin, instead of 100 pounds, and 22 pounds of cocaine, instead of 500.
Meanwhile, Democrats sought again today to claim a piece of the public safety debate by reiterating their opposition to three provisions in Virginia law that they said allow guns to be taken onto school property.
The Democrats, led by Del. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller and Leslie L. Byrne, both running for state Senate seats in Fairfax County, criticized Gilmore and several Northern Virginia Republicans for their unsuccessful attempt this year to allow students who hunt to keep guns in their cars in school parking lots.
Other key features of Gilmore's new Sabre proposal include:
* Bounties of as much as $10,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions for selling drugs to children, dealing large quantities of drugs or operating methamphetamine labs.
* Mandatory prison terms of 20 years to life for dealers who possess illegal drugs in the same amounts that would be outlined in the revised kingpin statutes.
* A new, 210-member state police division to serve as a rapid-response team to help sheriffs, police departments and grand juries on drug cases.
Gilmore also proposed mandatory testing, treatment and extensive community service for first-time drug offenders and those being released from prison. In all, Sabre would cost $60 million over a two-year budget cycle if enacted by the legislature.
Gilmore, a former county prosecutor in suburban Richmond, and his aides drafted Sabre over the last two months. They said that while there may be relatively few kingpins in the state--perhaps 100 of them over the next decade--they should be taken off Virginia streets.
Gilmore also told reporters that there was nothing accidental about the timing of his announcement, less than two months before the Nov. 2 election, "so people running for office can comment," he said.
The governor was starkly partisan, pronouncing the Clinton administration's efforts against drugs "disgraceful and damaging," and calling Sabre a "tough, but smart, Republican answer" to the drug threat.
CAPTION: Gov. James S. Gilmore III offered a plan to toughen Virginia drug laws.