State Sen. Jim Seward wants to strengthen penalties for individuals responsible for drug-related arson in New York.
Seward, R-Milford, visited Homer, Cortland County, Thursday to unveil legislation that would make it a class E felony to cause a fire or explosion while manufacturing illegal drugs. Another charge, a class C felony, would apply if the defendant recklessly causes an explosion or fire during the illegal drug manufacturing process.
The purpose of the bill is to close loopholes in state law. These loopholes were revealed after a fire in downtown Homer in September 2016.
Brian Bermudez was manufacturing meth in his apartment when his lab exploded. The explosion and the ensuing fire killed his neighbor, Dewayne Block, and destroyed the building.
But due to the loopholes in the law, Bermudez couldn't be charged with arson or murder.
Seward's bill is supported by Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti, who informed the senator about the loopholes.
"Since first taking office, I have made fighting meth, heroin and other illegal drugs a top priority, but to truly make a difference, we need to update our laws," Perfetti said. "Senator Seward understands the need for change and I appreciate his partnership as we work together to improve community safety and honor the memory of Mr. Dewayne Block."
Under Seward's proposal, individuals convicted of the class C felony could receive a 15-year prison sentence. For the class E felony, a prison sentence of up to four years could be applied.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Codes Committee for consideration.
"When someone damages property or even worse, claims a life, while making drugs we need to have strong laws on the books to make sure the punishment fits the crime," Seward said. "The loss of life and property in Homer in 2016 was tragic and it is imperative that we update New York state's arson laws to properly address the disturbing surge in drug-related fires."