Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519

03/02/2006 01:30 PM House FINANCE

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Moved CSHB 394(L&C) Out of Committee
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
Moved CSHB 395(FIN) Out of Committee
2:10:23 PM                                                                                                                    
HOUSE BILL NO. 321                                                                                                            
     An  Act  relating to  high  risk  operation of  a  motor                                                                   
     vehicle,  aircraft,   or  watercraft  while   under  the                                                                   
     influence  of   an  alcoholic  beverage,   inhalant,  or                                                                   
     controlled  substance  and to  refusal  to  submit to  a                                                                   
     chemical test.                                                                                                             
REPRESENTATIVE  JAY  RAMRAS,  SPONSOR,  advised that  HB  321                                                                   
proposes  new  statutory language,  which  addresses  tougher                                                                   
Driving Under the  Influence (DUI) laws.  Presently,  it is a                                                                   
crime in  Alaska to  operate a vehicle  with a blood  alcohol                                                                   
level of .08 or greater.  The  proposed legislation would not                                                                   
change current  law, but  would create  an enhanced  crime of                                                                   
high risk driving under the influence.   A person commits the                                                                   
crime  of high risk  driving under  the influence,  if  it is                                                                   
determined by a  chemical test that a person's  blood alcohol                                                                   
concentration  (BAC) is  .16 or  greater.   A  person who  is                                                                   
convicted  of high risk  DUI would  face enhanced  sentences.                                                                   
Under the legislation, sentencing  for refusal to submit to a                                                                   
chemical test would also be made  tougher, to concur with the                                                                   
high risk DUI sentences.                                                                                                        
Representative  Ramras pointed  out that current  information                                                                   
from  the  National  Highway  Traffic  Safety  Administration                                                                   
(NHTSA)  shows  that  31 states  have  already  adopted  laws                                                                   
dealing with enhanced penalties  for high-blood alcohol level                                                                   
driving offenses.   The NHTSA  reports that over half  of all                                                                   
alcohol-related fatalities involve  someone with a .15 BAC or                                                                   
higher.  The high-risk driver  provision of HB 321 would take                                                                   
clear   aim  against   the  most   egregious  drunk   driving                                                                   
offenders, providing  stiffer penalties is a  legal remedy to                                                                   
bring their numbers down.  As  we have seen from the needless                                                                   
and tragic incidents that have  occurred in the Interior this                                                                   
past year,  now is  the time for  Alaska to address  stricter                                                                   
penalties for higher-risk driving under the influence.                                                                          
Representative  Ramras  emphasized  that the  legislation  is                                                                   
part  of a  full approach  to improve  alcohol management  in                                                                   
Alaska.    Earlier legislation  introduced,  which  has  been                                                                   
   signed  into  law,   involved  renewal   of  alcohol  server                                                                 
   education cards.                                                                                                             
   2:17:29 PM                                                                                                                 
   Representative  Ramras noted  that  in  the  House Judiciary                                                                 
   Committee,  questions  were  posed  regarding  changing  the                                                                 
   behavior of the drunk driver  or changing how the deals with                                                                 
   those drivers.    He acknowledged  that  the  Legislature  is                                                                
   attempting to hold down rising  costs within government.   He                                                                
   noted the  repeal accompanying  the  bill, which  would help                                                                 
   measure the  effect  of  the  legislation  for  a three-year                                                                 
   period.  Representative  Ramras  pointed out  that the House                                                                 
   Judiciary Committee  (HJC) version of  the bill  was the one                                                                 
   being offered.                                                                                                               
   The legislation  attempts to  catch  problem drivers  at the                                                                 
   moment of crisis  and put them  into therapeutic  court.   He                                                                
   urged that the State  Legislature opt to  end up with "safer                                                                 
   2:20:32 PM                                                                                                                 
   JANE PIERSON, STAFF,  REPRESENTATIVE JAY  RAMRAS, offered  to                                                                
   answer questions of the Committee.                                                                                           
   2:20:54 PM                                                                                                                 
   Representative Kelly noted that he supports the legislation,                                                                 
   however, remembered concerns voiced by Mothers Against Drunk                                                                 
   Driving (MADD).                                                                                                              
   Representative Ramras replied  that the rewrite  of the bill                                                                 
   has the support of MADD and the Cabaret Hotel and Restaurant                                                                 
   Retail Association (CHARR).  He noted it is difficult to get                                                                 
   those two groups to align on  anything.  Initially, MADD was                                                                 
   opposed to the legislation as it attempts to draw a standard                                                                 
   between drunk and "really drunk".                                                                                            
   2:22:53 PM                                                                                                                 
   Representative  Holm  asked  if  there  was  data  available                                                                 
   regarding the reduction to Driving Under the Influence (DUI)                                                                 
   based upon the change from .08 to a super high rate if .15.                                                                  
   Representative  Ramras   advised   that  was   one   of  the                                                                 
   difficulties expressed  in  the  House  Judiciary Committee.                                                                 
   Some states referred to that as providing a lesser degree  of                                                                
   recidivism;  however,  that  information  was  antidotal   in                                                                
   nature.  That prompted  Representative Coghill  to ask if it                                                                 
   changed the  behavior of  the drinker  or the  way the State                                                                 
   deals with the drinker.   The committee  substitute places  a                                                                
   repealer in it to see how it  goes for the next three years.                                                                 
He recommended  that the Department of  Corrections determine                                                                   
the success.                                                                                                                    
2:25:02 PM                                                                                                                    
Ms. Pierson  added that studies  indicate that people  with a                                                                   
high BAC are  more likely to recidivate; that  group tends to                                                                   
have more  problems  with alcohol  abuse.   The intent  is to                                                                   
target that group.                                                                                                              
Representative   Ramras  acknowledged   that   Representative                                                                   
Coghill  had  voice  that  concern.    Representative  Ramras                                                                   
encouraged  members  to  pass  the bill  from  Committee  and                                                                   
support it on the House Floor.                                                                                                  
2:27:14 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Holm pointed  out  the fiscal  note does  not                                                                   
indicate a departmental change  down the road.  He would have                                                                   
hoped that  the Department of  Corrections sees  less expense                                                                   
down the line with passage of the bill.                                                                                         
2:28:19 PM                                                                                                                    
Co-Chair Meyer  mentioned that he  intended to HOLD  the bill                                                                   
in  Committee to  discuss  ways to  reduce  the fiscal  note,                                                                   
following public testimony.                                                                                                     
2:28:40 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative Hawker  commented on the separation  of "drunk                                                                   
from  really drunk"  and asked  if there  was any  scientific                                                                   
evidence used to determine the BAC levels.                                                                                      
Representative   Ramras   responded    that   in   the   HJC,                                                                   
Representative Gara  had addressed that concern.   He pointed                                                                   
out that in the federal transportation  bill, there are funds                                                                   
available to address  high BAC drinkers.  However,  there are                                                                   
other  components,   which  must   be  fulfilled,   including                                                                   
roadblocks and  checkpoints; those factors would  not work in                                                                   
Alaska.  It is recognized across  the country that a high BAC                                                                   
limit standard ranges  between .15 and .22.   The legislation                                                                   
choose .16.                                                                                                                     
2:31:25 PM                                                                                                                    
Representative  Hawker thought  that  the federal  government                                                                   
.08 standard  "blackmailed" the  State of Alaska.      He was                                                                   
outraged  by the  standard, stating  that  .16 compounds  the                                                                   
Representative Hawker asked the  percentage of error that can                                                                   
happen when  taking the  measurement.  Representative  Ramras                                                                   
   requested that the  Department of  Law or  the Department  of                                                                
   Public Safety speak to that.                                                                                                 
   2:32:46 PM                                                                                                                 
   Representative Hawker suggested that the decisions made were                                                                 
   "arbitrary"  and   will   have   serious   consequences  for                                                                 
   individuals.    He  asked  if  the  sponsor  had  looked   at                                                                
   aggravator factors including accident or injury to someone.                                                                  
   Representative Ramras  said  those penalties  already exist.                                                                 
   He pointed out  that the  proposed figures  are arbitrary  as                                                                
   are the ones proposed  by the oil  industry.  Representative                                                                 
   Hawker argued that HB 321 seriously affects people's lives.                                                                  
   Representative Weyhrauch  asked if  the intended  sunset  was                                                                
   2009.  Representative Ramras advised the recommendation is  a                                                                
   sunset in three years.                                                                                                       
   Representative  Kelly  related  a  story  about the  alcohol                                                                 
   deaths  related  in  Fairbanks.   He  indicated  five  bills                                                                 
   resulting from  that outrage;  he asked  if HB  321 had been                                                                 
   chosen at the exclusion of the others.                                                                                       
   Representative Ramras responded  that MADD was not impressed                                                                 
   with HB 321 as  a deterrent.  The  legislation targets those                                                                 
   people who  have consumed  a great  deal of alcohol  and are                                                                 
   demonstrating impairment,  potentially causing  a great deal                                                                 
   of harm.  The bill  is only one of  many items MADD hopes  to                                                                
   see passed.                                                                                                                  
   2:38:46 PM                                                                                                                 
   Representative Joule questioned if a server could be charged                                                                 
   with civil liability  if the person drinking  moved from one                                                                 
   establishment to another.                                                                                                    
   Representative  Ramras said  they  could  and  that language                                                                 
   already  exists  in  statute.    He pointed   out the  risks                                                                 
   involved.  The younger age offender is the target; hopefully                                                                 
   before they become habitual offenders.                                                                                       
   Representative Holm asked for  an explanation of BAC and  how                                                                
   the  .08   number   is   attained.      He   concurred  with                                                                 
   Representative Hawker's earlier  observation about the level                                                                 
   of intoxication at .16 and  voiced concern about the average                                                                 
   Representative  Ramras  said  he  accepts  the .08  standard                                                                 
   because it is the law of the  land.  He stressed that no  one                                                                
   should not operate a vehicle at .16 BAC.                                                                                     
   2:44:19 PM                                                                                                                 
Ms. Pierson  explained how a  drunken wheel works,  noting it                                                                   
provides a low standard.                                                                                                        
2:45:41 PM                                                                                                                    
QUINLAN  STEINER, (TESTIFIED  VIA TELECONFERENCE),  DIRECTOR,                                                                   
OFFICE  OF  PUBLIC DEFENDER,  ANCHORAGE,  offered  to  answer                                                                   
questions on the fiscal note.                                                                                                   
JOSH FINK,  (TESTIFIED VIA TELECONFERENCE),  PUBLIC ADVOCATE,                                                                   
OFFICE  OF PUBLIC ADVOCACY,  offered to  answer questions  of                                                                   
the Committee.                                                                                                                  
Representative  Ramras recommended  checking  with the  State                                                                   
Troopers to get a more accurate read on the numbers.                                                                            
Representative  Kelly pointed out  that the proposed  numbers                                                                   
were different from those made by MADD.                                                                                         
Representative  Joule discussed  a device  for cars  that can                                                                   
measure intoxication.   Representative  Ramras replied  it is                                                                   
called an  Ignition Lock, adding  that it would  be difficult                                                                   
to have  a standard  that could  not be  enforced in  both an                                                                   
urban  and  rural   areas.    That  device   can  cause  many                                                                   
operational difficulties.                                                                                                       
HB 321 was HELD in Committee for further consideration.                                                                         

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