House committee considers bill lowering blood-alcohol limit

Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- The House Transportation Committee took up bill Tuesday that would set a lower blood-alcohol limit to define drunk driving.

The measure got a hearing on the same day national liquor industry representatives said they would urge state legislators to lower the legal standard for drunken driving to 0.08 from 0.10.

But some members of the committee said they were not convinced that lowering the limit, without taking other steps to fight drunk driving, would substantially reduce the number of drunk drivers on Alaska roads.

Committee chairman Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, said he had a variety of concerns about the bill.

''What I need to have clarified in my mind is whether this is getting drunk people off the road or just getting more people arrested,'' Kohring said.

A bill signed last year by President Clinton would take away 2 percent of federal highway funds from states that fail to adopt the 0.08 standard by 2004. The penalty would increase for each year a state fails to adopt the federal standard. Under the law, Alaska could lose $3.5 million in the first year the new law takes effect and up to $14 million a year by 2008.

Rep. Bev Masek, R-Wasilla, said the law amounts to blackmail by the federal government. She said the state's efforts to combat drunk driving should focus on those at greatest risk of drinking and driving.

Kohring questioned whether the costs associated with implementing the tougher standard would be greater than the money saved by complying with the new federal law.

At a news conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, liquor industry representatives pledged to push for the lower blood-alcohol standard. Proponents of the tougher law say it could save 500 lives a year. So far, 21 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standard.

Transportation committee member Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said she favored the bill, sponsored by Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River.

''If this saves even one life, it would be worth it,'' Wilson said.

Those testifying in favor of the bill said studies have shown that tougher blood-alcohol standards, in conjunction with increased enforcement and education, have reduced the incidence of drunk driving.

''No one is saying it's a magic bullet. It's a tool,'' said Mary Moran, director of the Alaska Highway Safety Office.

The House Transportation Committee in February passed a comprehensive drunk driving bill that included the tougher blood-alcohol standard. In addition, that bill calls for increased jail time and fines for repeat drunk drivers, requires them to undergo treatment, takes away their vehicles and prohibits them from registering vehicles.

Rep. Kott said his pared-down measure is meant to address possible concerns about the cost of the broader bill, sponsored by Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage. Kott said his bill would give the Legislature an alternative way to comply with the federal law.

Kohring and Masek said that before voting on the measure, they wanted more information about the effects of lowering the blood-alcohol standard. The committee was scheduled to take up the measure again next Tuesday.

That information has already been provided to the committee, said Cindy Cashen of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, after the hearing.

''We've been there and done that,'' she said. ''Apparently some of our legislators don't like being told what to do.''

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