Legislature(1993 - 1994)
02/25/1993 05:00 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 61: LOWER ALCOHOL LIMIT TO 0.08 FOR OMVI'S REPRESENTATIVE JIM NORDLUND, PRIME SPONSOR OF HB 61, began his testimony by stating that HB 61 reduces the legal definition of intoxication for DWI from .10 percent to .08 percent. He explained that although the reduction appeared minor, it would improve highway safety. He said there are five other states that currently use .08 percent in their laws. Studies in California indicated traffic fatalities have been reduced due to implementation of the .08 percent law. Number 037 JAY FRANK, LOBBYIST FOR STATE FARM AND ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANIES, testified in favor of HB 61. He felt the purpose of the bill was to prevent loss of lives due to alcohol impairment. He mentioned the findings in the legislation which had to do with the presumptions being impaired as opposed to being intoxicated. Number 128 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER asked HOWARD BURGER, a witness for the Alaska State Troopers, what the position of the Alaska State Troopers on HB 61. MR. BURGER replied that the department supports the legislation, however, they suggested modifications. He said that this bill would allow them to prosecute more successfully the borderline DWI offenders. Most of the DWIs arrested are above the .10 limit, but for those that are close, they are routinely dismissed. This will allow them to put a few more people in jail, force a few more drunks off the road, and teach them a lesson. REPRESENTATIVE MULDER asked Mr. Burger if he felt the state was enforcing the current laws reflecting the .10 limit. MR. BURGER stated that he felt it was adequate for the number of staff they now employ. Number 150 MIKE NEELY, PRESIDENT, ANCHORAGE RESTAURANT AND BEVERAGE ASSOCIATION, and also speaking as a spokesman for the statewide organization of the ALASKA CABARET, HOTEL, RESTAURANT AND RETAILERS ASSOCIATION (CHARR), felt the bill would intimidate responsible consumers of alcohol more than the irresponsible. A majority of folks arrested are well beyond the .10 limit level, they are at .15 and .17. These abusers will continue to operate in an irresponsible manner, according to Mr. Neely. MR. NEELY also stated that it would be retroactively enforced in that he did not feel people would be picked up at .08 level of intoxication for DWI, they would have been involved in an accident and testing would then be done. He felt it would dilute the law enforcement efforts forcing officers to spend time enforcing DWI offenses and other criminal activities, including the arrest of heavy drinkers. Number 188 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND commented on Mr. Neely's comments. He stated this would pick up a marginal increase of offenders. He felt there was no reason not to prosecute those marginal folks. Number 210 CAROL WILSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHARR (ALASKA CABARET, HOTEL, RESTAURANT AND RETAILERS ASSOCIATION), expressed her concerns that by far a large majority of offenders are well over the .10 limit, forcing police to deal with even lower levels. By lowering the level to .08 you are forcing troopers and local police to cast their nets over an even wider area than they already have to deal with. She felt the state would be far better off to devote more resources to the state troopers and the local police to enforce the .10 that is currently on the books, and to really do something to people who are stopped as repeat offenders. She mentioned legislation introduced by Representative Mulder that does have penalties for repeat offenders and said that is the sort of thing their organization believes should get passed. REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND said he wasn't sure they would be casting an even wider net; if there would be any impact at all it would be on the prosecution side. Number 259 KAREY SMITH testified that she had been hit by a drunk driver and didn't see where it would hurt anyone by lowering level. Prevention and safety is what is most important. Number 283 NEILL RAYMOND, representing the NATIONAL HIGHWAY SAFETY ADMINISTRATION, testified that they were in support of the .08 limit. He said a person begins to become impaired at .04 and, although a person feels okay, essential driving abilities become affected. Commercial drivers can be convicted at .04 limit, so it is there for a reason. Five states currently have .08 and have had dramatic crash reduction due to the .08 limit. Specifically, in California, fatalities have been reduced by 12 percent since the .08 limit was introduced in January 1990. He felt that the .08 limit would instill fear into the drunk drivers and prevent more from attempting to drive. KEITH PERRIN, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC SAFETY EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, commented that they strongly endorse HB 61. He felt there was little doubt that .08 individuals are extremely dangerous on the highway. As a certified instructor in the apprehension of DWI drivers, he pointed out a couple facts: individuals become impaired as low as .03 when reactions start to slow down. At .05 they start taking risks, and at .08 everybody's vision is impaired. An individual driving sober down the road may be able to see the hazard and react in a certain amount of time. A person at .08 cannot see the hazard as well as a sober person and he may be taking a risk in driving faster, which he wouldn't under normal conditions, and reactions are extremely slow. These variables together add considerable risk and these people should be removed from the highways. Number 423 RICK URION, LOBBYIST, ALASKA WINE AND SPIRITS WHOLESALERS ASSOCIATION, stated his industry did not condone drinking while under the influence of alcohol or the abuse of alcohol. Over the years they have supported laws which increase penalties for DWI, supported laws which increased the drinking age from 19 to 21, supported laws for bars to place signs in bars which describe possible hazards of drinking alcohol, support local option laws which allow communities to vote to be wet or dry, and they will support any law that will reasonably help curb the abuse of alcohol. He did not feel HB 61 would help curb the abuse of alcohol. He commented that some may be surprised that their industry would feel that way. MR. URION read from an article written by Ms. Candy Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In her article, she mentioned that society no longer considers impaired driving socially acceptable. In relation to the .08, the legislation ignores the real core of the problem, individuals who, despite new laws and change in attitude, continue to drink and drive. She didn't feel lowering the blood alcohol content would make a difference to offenders. Number 502 LENNIE GORSUCH, LOBBYIST, MILLER BREWING COMPANY, said they would align themselves with those who have indicated that what should be addressed is not the marginal drivers out there who are between the .08 and the .10, but those that require the focus of attention are the .10 and higher. Enforcement should be concentrated on and increasing the severity of penalties. There is currently legislation which will do that. Public awareness should be increased in the penalties that do exist and there should be a certainty of arrest. They should know they will be caught, arrested, and prosecuted and that would go a long way toward making highways more safe rather than going after this small group of marginal people. Number 544 CHAIR FOSTER stated that HB 61 would be held in committee for further consideration; specifically, he would like to give a few more people who called his office from his district the chance to testify by teleconference in the future.