Topeka A proposal to impose tougher sanctions against drunken drivers based on how much alcohol they've consumed is being considered by a legislative committee, but some law enforcement officials are wary of the idea.
The measure would suspend the driver's license of an offender longer if his or her blood-alcohol level was at least twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent. First-time offenders would lose their licenses for 60 days instead of 30 days, and people with three "super DUI" offenses would lose their licenses permanently. That sanction isn't imposed now until someone has five offenses.
The Special Committee on Judiciary's review of the proposal came five days after a Kansas Court of Appeals ruling emphasized that the state can suspend someone's license even if that person avoids a criminal conviction for drunken driving.
The proposal has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, and the Kansas State Nurses Assn. But some attorneys, state officials and law enforcement officials wonder whether such a change could backfire - creating more contested DUI cases or encouraging people who are pulled over to refuse to take Breathalyzer tests.
The committee plans to discuss the issue again in November, and its endorsement could improve the proposal's chances for passage during the 2007 legislative session.
Its chairman, Rep. Lance Kinzer, said Schmidt's interest makes a discussion likely next year.
"It'll continue to stay a part of the agenda," said Kinzer, R-Olathe. "And it's an important issue."
The nurses' association views the bill as a public safety measure, executive director Terri Roberts told the committee. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, roughly half of the state's alcohol-related traffic fatalities involved drivers with blood-alcohol levels of 0.16 percent or more.
Also, since the 1990s, more than 30 states have enacted such "super DUI" laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They include Colorado, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma.
The proposal before the committee also would double the potential jail time and fines for someone convicted of driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent or more. A first-time offender must spend at least 48 hours in jail and pay a fine of at least $500.
But the measure would leave unchanged the law dealing with the penalties for refusing to take a sobriety test. It mandates a three-year license suspension upon a third offense.
Because of that, Kansas Highway Patrol Maj. Mark Goodloe said, someone who already has two offenses on his or her record would have a strong incentive to refuse a test to avoid a lifetime license revocation.
Lawrence lawyer Mike Clarke, who handles DUI cases, said if the proposal became law, he and other defense attorneys would challenge the accuracy of Breathalyzer tests if they showed someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 or more.
"It's going to increase the litigation," he said. "We're going to go to court more. It's going to give us an incentive to fight the increased penalty."
Goodloe noted that the proposal doesn't increase penalties for driving under the influence of other drugs, such as methamphetamine.
And Clarke said people who are pulled over for drunken driving typically have no idea how many drinks it takes to put them over the legal limit. That means tougher penalties for certain DUIs aren't likely to act as a deterrent.