Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/27/2001 01:48 PM JUD

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SB 177-DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED:BAC LEVEL/FINES                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR announced SB 177 to be up for consideration.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
MS. LORETTA  BROWN, staff to Senator  Ward, said that SB  177 lowers                                                            
the blood alcohol  content from .10  to .08 and increases  fines for                                                            
first time offenders.  It also goes one step further  and lowers the                                                            
legal  limit of  blood alcohol  content to  .04 for  those with  one                                                            
prior  driving   under  the  influence   (DUI)  conviction.   Anyone                                                            
convicted  of  a  second  offense  will  lose  his  or  her  driving                                                            
privileges  for  life and  be subject  to  higher fines.  Ms.  Brown                                                            
stated,  "There  is no  second  chance.  This  is basically  a  zero                                                            
tolerance  law for  convicted drunk  drivers making  it illegal  for                                                            
them to drink at all after one conviction."                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS. BROWN  said that  federal penalties  are  being strengthened  in                                                            
2004 if the state does not lower the blood alcohol level to .08.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Number 620                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR ELLIS  said that .08 legislation  has been around  for years                                                            
but no public  hearing was granted.  He asked if there  was a reason                                                            
it was being brought forward now.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
MS. BROWN replied  that some of Senator Ward's constituents  came to                                                            
him who  had a  loved one  hurt or  killed by  a first-time  alcohol                                                            
offender.  In  addition,   he  thought  the  timing   to  pass  this                                                            
legislation  might be good since the  federal legislation  was being                                                            
worked on, too.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR ELLIS said he appreciated the change of heart.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. LOREN JONES,  Department of Health  and Social Services,  stated                                                            
support for SB 177 and  said he would answer questions on the fiscal                                                            
note.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked what the  administration's position  is on                                                            
the lifetime revocation of driving privileges.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
MR. JONES replied that he couldn't tell him.                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Number 820                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. AL  NEAR, Fairbanks,  stated support for  SB 177. He thought  it                                                            
was a  step in the  right direction.  He especially  likes the  part                                                            
about the repeat  offender, because  those are the people  who cause                                                            
the fatalities.  He  said that  in 1999,  Alaska led  the nation  in                                                            
highway accidents  in which alcohol  was a factor. Forty  out of the                                                            
76  fatal  accidents  for  that  year  involved  alcohol,  about  53                                                            
percent.  It wasn't much  better in the year  before that.  In 1998,                                                            
people with blood alcohol  concentrations above .08 were involved in                                                            
2,750 auto crashes  in which 29 people died and 1,600  were injured.                                                            
In accidents involving  drivers with an alcohol content of less than                                                            
.08, there were only 100  crashes killing 2 people and injuring 100.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR.  NEAR said  he  has found  that  a person,  male  or female,  of                                                            
average weight could have  three to four drinks per hour before they                                                            
reach  the .08  level. He  thought that  social  drinkers would  not                                                            
drink that much.                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR THERRIAULT  said Mr. Near's testimony was  on the .08 level,                                                            
which he didn't have a  problem with. He expressed concern about the                                                            
lower level  of .04 for  those operating a  piece of equipment  that                                                            
requires a chauffeur drivers  license (CDL). A second offender would                                                            
lose his or her license  for life if he or she was pulled over for a                                                            
tail light being  out and the officer smelled alcohol  and gave them                                                            
a breathalyzer  test. He asked what the justification  was for that.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MR. NEAR replied  that it is actually  written in the statutes  that                                                            
commercial  drivers are considered  to be impaired in their  driving                                                            
if they have a  blood alcohol content of .04.  He  asked, "How could                                                            
it be then,  that you and I can drive  with a blood alcohol  content                                                            
of .08, or as  it stands right now .10, and be safe?  How can we not                                                            
have some impairment  ourselves? ...  We are indeed impaired  at .04                                                            
and even lower than that."                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MR. NEAR said  that one important  thing to remember is that  repeat                                                            
offenders cause 80 percent of the deaths.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR THERRIAULT responded:                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
     Mr. Chairman, I'm not sure  it's equal protection or what,                                                                 
     but you could  have somebody that stops and plays  pool or                                                                 
     whatever  after work and drives  home every day at .044  -                                                                 
     Every day  he drives home that way. But somebody  that had                                                                 
     a conviction - language  in section 8 talks about previous                                                                 
     offenses  - you could  have somebody  that had a previous                                                                  
     offense  - 10  years ago  - and  they drive  home and  get                                                                 
     pulled over for a tail light  or something and blow a .041                                                                 
     tomorrow  and  they lose  their license  for  the rest  of                                                                 
     their  life.  I  don't  know how  that  gets  applied  and                                                                 
     reviewed by the courts…                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
He asked for something  that could be sensibly enforced  and applied                                                            
across our society.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR. NEAR  asked Senator Therriault  what he  thought about  a second                                                            
offense  and  an  .08  level  as  a  justification  for  a  lifetime                                                            
revocation.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  replied  that he  thought  that was  much  more                                                            
defensible,  but he  thought Mr.  Near's testimony  sounded like  he                                                            
wanted the general DUI law to be down at .08.                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Number 1444                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  CHRISTI  ROWENSKI,  representing   Friends  of  Tom,  said  the                                                            
committee  needs to  think about  what  it means  when the  National                                                            
Highway  Transportation Safety  Administration  statistics say  that                                                            
reduction to .08  has the potential of saving hundreds  of lives and                                                            
reducing  thousands   of  serious   injuries  on  the  highways   if                                                            
implemented  by  all  states.  She said  that  drunk  driving  laws,                                                            
sustained public  education, information  efforts, and vigorous  and                                                            
consistent enforcement  can save a whole lot of lives. She said they                                                            
get  asked if  an experienced  drinker  gets  as impaired,  but  she                                                            
assured them  that experienced drinkers  are significantly  impaired                                                            
at .08.  She said  that people are  impaired in  regard to  critical                                                            
driving tasks,  such as divided attention,  complex reaction  times,                                                            
steering and lane changing.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MR. BLAIR MCCUNE, Alaska  Public Defender Agency, said his agency is                                                            
mainly  concerned  with  the permanent  loss  of  license  provision                                                            
because people  can be rehabilitated  through alcohol treatment.  He                                                            
said:                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
     Permanent  loss of  license would  go against  people  who                                                                 
     were  insured  and licensed  to be  driving  on the  road.                                                                 
     License  revocations -  now people have  hope, go through                                                                  
     treatment,  demonstrate   sobriety,  they  can  get  their                                                                 
     license back. At that point  they have to get special risk                                                                 
     insurance.  Having people insured  rather than people  who                                                                 
     just give up hope and drive  anyway is preferable. I don't                                                                 
     think the deterrent effect,  although I'm sure it would do                                                                 
     some,  would be  strong  enough to  justify  not having  a                                                                 
     chance  to  get  your  license  back  if you  demonstrate                                                                  
     sobriety and go through  the programs that the Division of                                                                 
     Motor  Vehicles feels  are appropriate.  That is our  main                                                                 
     concern with the bill.                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  TAYLOR asked  how long he  had been  involved in  criminal                                                            
litigation in the state.                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MR. MCCUNE replied that  he has been a public defender for 20 years.                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR  asked if he personally tried DUI  cases during that                                                            
time.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MR. MCCUNE said he did.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN TAYLOR asked for how long.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MR. MCCUNE  replied that  most of  the DUI cases  were in  Fairbanks                                                            
some time ago.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  TAYLOR asked,  during his  experience with  DUIs, at  what                                                            
level of intoxication  he normally found that the  arresting officer                                                            
had probable cause to pull someone off the road.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MR. MCCUNE  replied  that most  of his cases  had to  do with  blood                                                            
alcohol levels  quite a bit over .10.  "The police would  take video                                                            
tapes of those  people. As people  got higher levels, impairment  on                                                            
the video would  become very obvious."  He said he  wasn't qualified                                                            
to talk  about probable  cause because  most of  his experience  had                                                            
been with high blood alcohol levels.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  TAYLOR  said  he  asked  because  the  committee  has  had                                                            
hearings  on  the  .08  level  in the  past  and  all  officers  who                                                            
testified  indicated that  they would not  pull over one  additional                                                            
person  in  the state  if  we  went to  .08  because  the  objective                                                            
symptoms  necessary   to  justify  pulling  someone   over  are  not                                                            
exhibited  until a driver  is in the .10 category.  That is  why the                                                            
fiscal notes for .08 have been very small.                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
CHAIRMAN  TAYLOR assured the  committee that  they would pass  a .08                                                            
bill  out this  year,  primarily  because  of the  National  Highway                                                            
Transportation Safety Act,  which would withhold millions of dollars                                                            
in the future  from the State of Alaska for highways  if Alaska does                                                            
not adopt  this standard.  He said he did  not want to preclude  the                                                            
House bill which  had other remedies and would hold  the bill to see                                                            
what other amendments are submitted.                                                                                            

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