The question before the house is whether drug dealers convicted of importing or supplying more than one kilogram of 100 percent pure heroin or its equivalent should be included by the United States Parole Commission in the "Greatest II" category of criminals -- a category now limited to murderers, aircraft hijackers, espionage agents, kidnapers, traitors and those who have committed fiver or more bank robberies.

The commission, in its effort to provide more certainty in the parole process, has established a two-dimensional chart to provide guidelines for parole boards. One axis is the "offense severity scale," which contains seven categories ranging from low to Greatest II, the most serious. The other axis attempts to qualify the "offender risk" -- the likelihood of a parolee's committing another crime.

By plotting the intersection of these two axes, the commission hopes to set forth a "customary range of months to be served" before parole may be granted.

The present commission standard puts an individual convicted of a crime involving more than 50 grams of 100 percent heroin in the "Greatest I" category. Under the proposed rule, which is described in the March 3 Federal Register (page 14904), the person convicted of dealing up to one kilogram would remain "Greatest I", but anyone convicted of handling more than that would go up to "Greatest II."

In justifying its change, the committee wrote it has "found that when it is faced with a conspiracy involving multi-kilo amounts of opiates, its release decisions in these cases are consistently above the guidelines."

The commission already is looking at raising the severity level of another crime, voluntary manslaughter, from "Greatest I" to "Greatest II."

The commission also is proposing subdividing the Greatest II category and employing a new severity measuring system, but that will have to be talked about another time.