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Archive for Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Stiffer penalties approved for drunken drivers

May 9, 2001

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— The third time was a charm for supporters of stiffer penalties for drunken drivers.

In the closing days of the legislative session, lawmakers approved an overhaul of the state's DUI laws after similar attempts failed in 1999 and 2000.

Gov. Bill Graves is expected to sign the measure into law, and plans are under way for a bill-signing ceremony.

"This bill says loud and clear that those who drink and drive in our state will face strong penalties," said Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, who helped keep the bill alive during the session.

Dennis Beaver of Atchison, whose son Casey was killed last year by a drunken driver with eight previous arrests for driving under the influence, called the proposal "a step in the right direction.

"I still think we have a long way to go," he said, both in toughening laws for repeat offenders and making sure the laws are enforced by judges.

The bill will ratchet up the penalties, fines, and driver's license suspensions for repeat DUI offenders.

The measure also expands the use of interlock ignition devices, and makes an important change in administrative hearings on whether to revoke a driver's license by switching the burden of proof from the arresting officer to the licensee.

The proposals were the result of work done by a task force appointed by Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall. Nancy Lindberg, an assistant to Stovall, said that although some of the task force's work was changed, Stovall was pleased with the final version.

"All the major priorities we asked for are there," Lindberg said.

This year, the bill won overwhelming support in the House and Senate, but it was the subject of lengthy negotiations.

Originally the bill would have required that a four-time offender spend 15 months in jail. But lawmakers backed off that, saying they were concerned it would overcrowd prisons and county jails.

Instead, the four-time offender will face a 90-day to one-year sentence with at least three days in jail and the remainder in a work-release program. After that, the offender must be placed in a treatment program, and then an aftercare program for one year.

Any violation of these programs, and the offender can be placed in prison for up to six months.

The bill also would increase an offender's punishment by one month in jail if he or she were convicted of DUI and had a child under 14 years of age in the vehicle.

Sen. Larry Salmans, R-Hanston, voted for the proposal, but questioned whether there was much the state could do to deter drunken drivers when alcohol was so accessible and even parents promoted keg parties.

He said heavy drinkers simply destroy their ability to make good choices.

On the increased use of interlock devices, it became obvious during debate that the change was made, at least partially, to satisfy federal requirements and be able to spend $3.2 million in federal highway funds on road construction. Currently, the state spends that money on safety programs because Kansas' interlock law doesn't meet certain federal standards.

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