Knowles signs bills on drunk driving

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles on Tuesday signed into law several bills pushed by the Republican majority to toughen drunk driving laws, including one that lowers the legal limit for driving to a blood alcohol content of .08 percent.

''By passing these bills into law, the Legislature acted on behalf of Alaskans who rose up to say that enough is enough -- people need to think before they drink, and not drink and drive,'' said Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, a leading advocate for the new laws. ''Alaskans should be held responsible, and not abuse alcohol.''

Rokeberg attended the ceremony where the governor signed four bills:

--House Bill 132 lowers to 0.08 percent the blood alcohol content at which a driver is presumed to be impaired, effective Sept. 1. It also lowers the amount of alcohol a person may possess before police may presume the person is a bootlegger.

--House Bill 172 establishes pilot ''therapeutic courts'' for Alaskans convicted of substance abuse crimes. The courts can mandate medication to dull the craving for alcohol, intensive outpatient alcoholism treatment, and frequent monitoring by the court in exchange for reduced sentences or parole under electronic monitoring.

--House Bill 179 changes state law to make sure courts can prosecute minors who consume alcohol, imposing escalating fines and community service requirements ranging to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, suspension of the offender's driving license and mandatory treatment for a third offense.

--House Bill 200 establishes July 3 as Drunk Driving Victims Remembrance Day in Alaska. Flags were lowered to half-staff across the state for that remembrance.

House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, sponsored the therapeutic courts bill. Rokeberg sponsored the others.

Knowles noted that more than 59,000 drunk driving arrests were recorded across Alaska in the last decade, and nearly 2,500 drivers recorded at least three DWIs. He said 434 people died as a result of drunk driving in that period.

''That means nearly half of all traffic fatalities in the past 10 years are alcohol-related,'' Knowles said. ''This is a tragedy. There's no other way to describe it. We can and must do better.''

''This is the strongest effort to fight substance abuse Alaska has seen in more than a decade, and its only fitting that it become law on a day we have set aside to remember victims of drunken driving,'' Rokeberg said.

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