Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2011

Effort to rewrite state DUI law stalled in Kansas Senate

March 31, 2011


— An overhaul of Kansas' laws against drunken driving is stalled in the state Senate, where some members have misgivings about requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders and others don't want to increase liquor taxes to cover potential additional costs.

The senator trying to shepherd the bill through the Legislature isn't sure anything will pass this year, even though the measure has been two years in the works. A key House member says lawmakers may have to settle for a less sweeping bill and then tinker with drunken-driving laws again.

The Senate had been scheduled to debate the drunken-driving legislation Wednesday. The measure increases penalties for refusing to take an alcohol test after a traffic stop and for being under the influence of alcohol or other drugs while working as a commercial driver. It creates a central state database of DUI influence cases to make it easier to track offenders' histories.

But Senate leaders abruptly canceled the debate after a caucus of Republican senators, and Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said the measure doesn't have enough support to pass. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican who's pushed for a comprehensive bill, said legislators aren't willing to acknowledge that reforms create costs — or to look for the money.

"Without them willing to pay for it, now it's not going to happen," Owens said. "It's all about money."

The latest round of work on strengthening the state's DUI laws began in 2008, amid public concern about repeat offenders. Legislators formed a commission in 2009 to do a comprehensive review of DUI laws, and its recommendations were ready for legislators this year. Last year, federal statistics showed that alcohol-related traffic fatalities jumped 12 percent in Kansas in 2009, to 154, when they declined by 7 percent nationwide.

Some legislators worry changes in penalties will crowd local jails and increase the state's prison population, and there's heartburn as well about the cost of creating the state DUI case database, estimated at up to $3 million.

One estimate put the cost of the DUI commission's recommendations at more than $9 million. Owens said his committee's revisions cut the potential costs by more than half.

The Senate's legislation would have raised liquor taxes by about $6 million a year — a hard sell.

"It was the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody was talking about," said Sen. Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican. "Everybody knew it was there."

The House overwhelmingly approved a less sweeping bill last week with tougher penalties for both refusing to take a DUI test and following a DUI conviction. Its version includes a requirement that all first-time offenders have their driver's licenses suspended for a month, followed by 11 months with an ignition interlock device on their vehicles. State law now allows a judge to require such a device, which prevents someone from starting a car without first doing a breath-alcohol test, but it's not mandated.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is pushing for an ignition interlock law, arguing that it will reduce repeat DUI offenses, traffic accidents and fatalities. Nine states require such devices for all first-time DUI offenders, while an additional seven require them for some, based on the offender's age or blood-alcohol level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"We feel very strongly that even people with suspended licenses continue to drive and are a danger," said Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican who is chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. "Next year, we can make it an even more sophisticated bill, but get what we can get this year. It'd be a shame after all this work to just let it go."

The Senate bill doesn't require ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders, but Owens supports the idea and told fellow GOP senators Wednesday that he would offer an amendment to add a provision to the Senate's legislation.

Other senators are wary. Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said some of his colleagues don't want to take away judges' discretion, and there's concern that installing the devices will result in up to $1,000 in additional fees for offenders.

"There's tremendous opposition," he said.

The Senate could consider the House's legislation, but Owens prefers what he sees as a comprehensive approach.

"It doesn't do hardly anything, except maybe put the interlocks on people," Owens said of the House plan. "We could have done that three years ago."


Ernest Barteldes 6 years, 8 months ago

What's the issue here? Raising liquor taxes is not a problem... Liquor is not an essential, it's something people buy as an option, not a real need.

imastinker 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm all for stronger DUI laws, but I'd like to see some educational campaigns out there. Why not show up at some bars with breathalyzers and let people see how they blow after a beer or two? I for one have no idea how many beers I can have at what interval between them and still drive. Is two beers and driving an hour later OK? What about eight beers and driving the next morning?

There's a lot of people that abuse the DUI laws, but a lot of people that don't realize they are and would abide by the laws if they knew they were breaking them. As long as we have sporadic enforcement of DUI, it will continue to happen. There are not a lot of options for getting around in rural areas here. A cab isn't really an option for people that don't live in city limits, so people tend to push the rules. It's still wrong but I think some education for those people would keep the "honest" folks from driving after drinking one or two too many beers.

The role of our law enforcement is public safety, and DUI is a big threat to public safety. But as long as they focus on fines and penalties for enforcement rather than education they won't do an effective job of removing the threat. It's easy to know when you are speeding, but being drunk is very subjective. They could help us with that one.

Throw the book at the other folks, that drive after ten too many beers or for the second or third violation.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

If you do just a tiny bit of online research, you can easily find out the answers to your questions.

imastinker 6 years, 8 months ago

"As you have read in other places in this site, there are many factors that affect your Blood Alcohol concentration (BAC) when you drink. Some of these include: a person's size, gender and physical condition; what they have had to eat; how much sleep they have had; what medications they are taking and, importantly, the actual alcohol content of their chosen "drink." "

Not subjective at all?

All I'm saying is that they could help and instead focus on fines. According to the chart, I can have more beers than I thought before being unsafe to drive. I probably won't change my habits, but small women can be drunk after two drinks - that's surprising.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

Not surprising to me.

I've seen that sort of information online many times.

There are many sites with more specific information than the one you posted.

And, of course, it's always good to err on the side of caution.

My point was, there's no real need for anybody to show up at a bar with a breathalzyer - you can get the information you need to make better decisions without that.

jafs 6 years, 8 months ago

And, no, the fact that there are a number of variables at work don't make the subject "subjective".

damnitimpissed 6 years, 8 months ago

Well put, imastinker.

Prevention > punishment. How about instead of using resources to punish drunk drivers, we provide tax breaks for establishments that provide breathalysers for patrons, thus lowering the number of drunk drivers that need catching?

Better public transport would help too, but I know I'm dreaming. Could we have a few cab stands downtown, at least?

jesse499 6 years, 8 months ago

The number of House and Senate members,Judgesand so on that have benn stopped for DUI could have somrthing to do with it to.

bad_dog 6 years, 8 months ago

And lobbyists.

Been there, seen them...

Liberty275 6 years, 8 months ago

I don't condone driving under the influence of any intoxicant, but the more mandatory penalties legislators pile on first-time offenders, the more likely a juror is to question the veracity of the test and hang the jury.

Perhaps MADD needs to see a few guilty drunks walk away unpunished before they stop over-reaching.

Chris Ogle 6 years, 8 months ago

Whats the difference between "DWI" and "OUI" ??? I have seen both charges listed in DG Booking reports, and the bail/bond amounts are different.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

""We feel very strongly that even people with suspended licenses continue to drive and are a danger," said Rep. Pat Colloton,"

I'm one up on Rep. Pat Colloton, because I know for a fact that that some do!

To know about that, all you need to do is read the newspaper.

kevbel246 6 years, 8 months ago

I believe that DWI implies you were legally drunk. While OUI implies you may be under the limit but still impaired...for example not able to pass roadside olympics as given by the police...

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