Legislature(1993 - 1994)
03/10/1994 03:35 PM TRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CHAIRMAN SHARP brings up HB 61 (LOWER ALCOHOL LIMIT TO 0.08 FOR OMVI'S) as the first order of business before the committee. The chairman calls the prime sponsor to testify. Number 034 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND thanks the chairman and the committee for scheduling HB 61. The representative states HB 61 would lower the blood alcohol limit by which a person is considered legally drunk to drive. HB 61 would lower that limit from 0.10 to 0.08. Most experts agree that driving at 0.08 blood alcohol level and above, is a level at which a person is significantly impaired. Number 078 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND cites statistics on accidents and blood alcohol levels from information in the committee bill file. Representative Nordlund states he has been known to have a few drinks, and he knows there is no way someone who has had five drinks in the space of an hour should be allowed to get behind the wheel of an automobile. He states his objective in HB 61 is not to encourage people to quit drinking, but to make sure that if people do drink, they do not get behind the wheel of an automobile and compromise the safety of others and themselves. REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND states as of 1993, ten states have passed 0.08 blood alcohol level laws. All European countries have a legal limit at 0.08 or less. Three-year-average statistics from California, Utah, Oregon, and Maine, states which have 0.08 blood alcohol level limit, indicate that there are 15.5% fewer fatalities, while the arrest rate for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) only went up about 4%. Representative Nordlund notes that names of organizations which support HB 61 and studies that support HB 61 are named in his sponsor statement for HB 61. Number 114 CHAIRMAN SHARP thanks Representative Nordlund for his testimony and asks if there are any questions for the representative. Hearing none, the chairman calls Margot Knuth from the Department of Law to testify. Number 122 MARGOT KNUTH, Assistant Attorney General, Department of Law (LAW), Criminal Division, states the department supports HB 61. Ms. Knuth states there is no crime that kills more people in Alaska than drunk driving. She thinks this legislation will have better and more consequences for the State of Alaska than many other bills that are being considered. MS. KNUTH states that one of the legal aspects the Department of Law is up against is that anyone with a prior conviction for DWI from a state with 0.08 blood alcohol level, cannot have that conviction counted as a previous conviction in Alaska. The courts of the State of Alaska have ruled that a conviction from a 0.08 state, even if the person was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.15 for that conviction, is substantially dissimilar from Alaska's law governing DWI offenses. So anyone with a record of convictions for DWI from any of the states, such as Oregon, California and the others, get treated as a first offender under Alaska law. Ms. Knuth states that is inappropriate. This is an instance where parity with other states is needed. Most of those arrested for DWI are at about .10 blood alcohol level. There are not a lot of people pulled over who are at .07 or even .08. But if a person is very close to 0.10, it becomes worth it for the defendant to go to trial and contest the charge. By dropping to a 0.08 level, many people at 0.10 will plead out, rather than going to trial. MS. KNUTH states the Department of Law does not expect to see very many more arrests, but they do expect to see more convictions as a result of HB 61. Number 163 SENATOR LINCOLN asks Ms. Knuth how many people plead out with a 0.10. MS. KNUTH says she does not have that information with her, but she could get back to Senator Lincoln with the answer. She does not know how many DWI cases there are statewide, and how many are prosecuted by troopers rather than by municipalities. Ms. Knuth points out that the City & Borough of Juneau (CBJ) is looking at passing an ordinance instituting 0.08 blood alcohol level law. She believes it is better not to have two different standards, one at the state level and one at the local level. Number 176 SENATOR LINCOLN asks if Ms. Knuth has statistics showing the number of people who are stopped for DWI whose blood alcohol level is between 0.08 and 0.10. MS. KNUTH replies the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has those statistics. Number 183 CHAIRMAN SHARP says he has read of instances where a person went to trial, was not convicted of DWI, but still had their license suspended under administrative revocation procedures. He asks Ms. Knuth if administrative revocation is proper in those circumstances. MS. KNUTH responds DPS may do better in answering that question, but she believes in instances of administrative revocation, the person whose license is revoked has an opportunity to contest that revocation. If the person whose license is suspended forgoes that opportunity, there may be no recourse. Number 201 CHAIRMAN SHARP thanks Ms. Knuth for her testimony and calls Juanita Hensley from the Division of Motor Vehicles. Number 204 JUANITA HENSLEY, Chief, Driver's Services, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Department of Public Safety (DPS) states DPS supports HB 61 and feels it is a tragedy to lose lives as the result of drunken driving. To answer Senator Lincoln's question, DPS uses an intoximeter 3000 is used to determine the blood alcohol level in a person's blood. Ms. Hensley states she has been advised from the State Crime Lab that there was a total of 174 breath tests given in 1993 that resulted in a level of 0.08 to 0.099. Unless those individuals were in an accident which resulted in aggravating injuries, they are not charged with DWI. Number 222 SENATOR LINCOLN asks why the DPS fiscal note is zero. MS. HENSLEY states the fiscal note is zero because HB 61 is not an enforcement bill, so DPS does not anticipate very many additional arrests due to the legislation. DPS does plan to apply for federal highway safety grants for public education. Number 234 SENATOR LINCOLN asks Ms. Hensley to clarify that there would not be additional expense in arresting persons with a blood alcohol level between 0.08 and 0.099. MS. HENSLEY replies that in 1993 there were in excess of 5,500 arrests for DWI statewide, and she does not see the small number of people with blood alcohol levels between 0.08 and 0.099 having much of a fiscal impact on the department. Of the arrests made for DWI, approximately 4,000 of those arrests were made by municipal police departments. DPS does not feel that the approximately 173 persons with a blood alcohol level between 0.08 and 0.099 would have much of a fiscal impact on the department. Number 259 CHAIRMAN SHARP asks what the purpose of section 4 is in HB 61. Number 275 MS. HENSLEY replies section 4 would set the legal blood alcohol level at 0.04 for commercial drivers and at 0.08 for all other drivers. Right now, a person can be charged with DWI at a 0.05 level if they are in an accident involving serious injury to someone. Section 4 would also reduce this level to 0.04. CHAIRMAN SHARP thanks Ms. Hensley for her testimony and calls Mr. Hackenmiller to testify. Number 377 LARRY HACKENMILLER, Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, and Restaurant Retailer's Association (CHARR) says he is from Fairbanks, where he owns a tavern. Mr. Hackenmiller states he has some statistical data which was not taken into consideration regarding HB 61. Mr. Hackenmiller submitted a letter to the committee which he wrote to the editor of the Fairbanks newspaper in April of 1993. He cites information from this letter. Mr. Hackenmiller believes the state should look at improving other aspects of highway safety, not just lowering the allowable blood alcohol content (BAC). The experts Mr. Hackenmiller has talked to state lowering the BAC will have no bearing at all on highway safety. MR. HACKENMILLER states 79% of the fatalities on highways involve a person who has a BAC level over 0.15. Half the people involved in fatal accidents have a BAC level of 0.20. We should deal with these offenders. The state also needs to enhance enforcement for speeding, failure to yield, and so on. Number 364 SENATOR LINCOLN asks how the lowering of the allowable BAC will affect restaurants and bars. Will employees have to be trained to recognize the difference between a 0.10 BAC and a 0.08 BAC? Will bars and restaurants be legally liable for patrons driving. Number 377 MR. HACKENMILLER replies that title 4 indicates that bars and restaurants cannot serve a visibly intoxicated person. The BAC level is not applicable with regards to 0.08 or 0.10. In server training, servers are taught to recognize the various stages of drinking and intoxication. Mr. Hackenmiller says his bar no longer takes the keys from intoxicated persons to keep them from driving: it is that persons responsibility to not drive if they are intoxicated. However, his bar will call the cops if an intoxicated person intends to drive. Mr. Hackenmiller says he bought his bar at about the same time MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) was being organized, and he is a supporter of MADD. MR. HACKENMILLER says the state needs to address the problem of repeat offenders of DWI, and they need to address offenders whose BAC is over 0.15. Those offenders are the ones who are going to kill people. Number 395 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND states perhaps he can help answer some of Senator Lincoln's questions. There was a section of HB 61 that was adopted on the house floor that would prevent the results from the intoximeter or any sort of other breathalyzer tests from being used as evidence in civil litigation against a bar or restaurant. Right now, if a person tests at over 0.10 on a test, it can be used in evidence in civil litigation against a bar or restaurant. HB 61 would disallow that linkage. REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND says, in response to several of Mr. Hackenmiller's statements, that there are a number of things we can do to make our roads safer, and he is correct that the bulk of the DWI problem is caused by people who are over 0.15 BAC. We can attack this problem from both ends, however. If you have had five drinks in one hour, you are impaired and should not be operating a motor vehicle. This is a modest step to set the BAC at a correct limit. 0.10 is too high. Number 416 CHAIRMAN SHARP thanks Mr. Hackenmiller and Representative Nordlund and asks if anyone else wishes to testify. The chairman asks if there is anyone in the room from the Public Defenders Office. The chairman asks if there is anyone in the room from the Department of Corrections. Apparently, there is no one in the room from either the Public Defenders Office or the Department of Corrections. REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND states he is not prepared to talk about the Public Defenders fiscal notes. CHAIRMAN SHARP says the Senate Finance Committee can address the bill's fiscal notes when the bill reaches that committee. Number 427 REPRESENTATIVE NORDLUND mentions that HB 61 will enable the state to take advantage of some federal highway safety planning funds. Passage of HB 61 will enable the state to capture more federal funds. Number 432 CHAIRMAN SHARP says the fiscal notes he has in front of him appear to total about 225,000 dollars. Number 434 SENATOR RANDY PHILLIPS says there are general fund receipts which would pay for part of the cost of the fiscal notes. Number 442 MS. HENSLEY says, for the state to keep 192,000 dollars in federal alcohol incentive grants, a 0.08 BAC law must be passed within three years. With the passage of HB 61 the state will get an additional 5% grant. This money will be available for a three to eight year period. This money would pay for alcohol server training, administrative hearing officer training, overtime for holiday alcohol programs, education, and enforcement. Number 462 SENATOR LINCOLN asks Ms. Hensley to clarify that the state would receive 200,000 dollars each year for eight years if HB 61 is passed and how much the total cost of HB 61 would be to the state. MS. HENSLEY replies there would be no cost to the state. SENATOR LINCOLN says her concern is that there will be additional DWI offenders having to wait to serve their sentences. She asks if the state will have to build an additional facility to serve these offenders. The senator states she is solidly in favor of keeping people from driving while intoxicated, but asks if there is a way to perhaps prevent people from driving while intoxicated. Number 483 MS. HENSLEY states that a bill passed in 1993 that helped the Department of Corrections by specifying that a DWI offender has to pay for their time in jail. The fee paid can be up to 1,000 dollars. In addition, the time served does not have to be served in a prison, but can be served in a halfway house. Number 493 CHAIRMAN SHARP asks if there are any other questions and what the pleasure of the committee is. Number 496 SENATOR RANDY PHILLIPS makes a motion to release HB 61 from the Senate Transportation Committee with individual recommendations. Senator Phillips notes that he would like the Senate Finance Committee to pay particular attention to the fiscal notes from the Public Defenders Office and the Department of Corrections. Number 502 CHAIRMAN SHARP, hearing objection from Senator Kelly, orders a role call vote on whether to release HB 61 from committee with individual recommendations. The vote was taken and the motion passes by three yeas, one nay, and one absent. Voting in favor of releasing HB 61 from the Senate Transportation Committee are Senators Sharp, Phillips, and Kerttula. Voting against releasing HB 61 from committee is Senator Kelly. Senator Lincoln is absent. SENATOR RANDY PHILLIPS, after hearing the secretary announce the vote, makes an off-hand, disparaging remark about the committee secretary being able to count.