LINCOLN — Doubling fines, mandating ignition interlocks and making bars legally liable when they serve drunken patrons are among the wide variety of ways Nebraska lawmakers are seeking to get tough on drunken drivers.
About a half-dozen measures dealing with drunken driving were introduced Wednesday, the final day of bill introductions for the 2011 session.
“I am so excited to see the Legislature is willing to take up this issue again,'' said Simera Reynolds of Nebraska's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “We really believe this is a way to save lives.''
Three high-profile cases in the Omaha area last fall, in which innocent people were killed by drunken drivers, ensured that this session would be one in which new approaches to tackling the problem would get a look.
Two of the measures seek to expand the use of ignition interlocks, a device that measures alcohol on a driver's breath before the engine can be started.
Legislative Bill 625, by State Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, would mandate that drunken drivers have their licenses revoked and would require judges to order them to use interlocks.
Conviction on a first offense, for example, would require 30 days without driving followed by five months using an interlock. Conviction on a third offense would mean one year without driving followed by 14 years of using an interlock.
LB 667, by Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, would expand interlock use. But the bill is controversial because it would repeal the state's current administrative license revocation law, or ALR.
Flood's bill would make getting an interlock a condition of bail after a drunken driving arrest and would make interlocks mandatory for anyone wishing to drive after a first or second offense.
Drunken driving opponents are split on Flood's approach. Project Extra Mile, an Omaha group focused on stopping teen drinking, opposes repealing ALR.
MADD also backs ALR but is open to other approaches that would provide swift and sure punishment and keep drunken drivers from repeatedly getting behind the wheel, Reynolds said.
Both bills would create a new crime of drunken driving with a child in the car. Fulton's bill would make the offense a felony.
Reynolds said both bills address a current gap in Nebraska law, illustrated by a recent case in which a 6-year-old in Omaha was severely injured in a vehicle driven by her father. He has been charged with felony drunken driving and felony child abuse.
“Every child deserves a designated driver and a safe ride home,'' Reynolds said.
Two of the bills address drinking and boating. Flood's bill would create sterner penalties for drinking while boating and would extend the law to personal watercraft. LB 554 by Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff would prohibit open containers on boats.
Flood's proposal contains several other provisions, including making DUI causing severe bodily injury a distinct crime and making it a felony to procure alcohol for a minor who goes on to cause death or serious injury.
Other drunken driving bills introduced Wednesday:
LB 693, by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, would make bars liable for damages caused by drunken patrons they serve. Nebraska is one of about a dozen states that do not have such “dram shop'' liability, long opposed by the state's bar owners.
LB 675, introduced by Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, would double the fines for drunken driving convictions. The fine for a first offense would rise from $500 to $1,000. For a third offense, the fine would rise from $600 to $1,200.
Pirsch's bill also would increase penalties for hit-and-run drivers involved in accidents that cause a death or serious injury. Another provision would make it illegal for repeat drunken drivers to drive with as little as 0.02 percent alcohol in their blood.
LB 659, introduced by Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, would make it a crime to drive after using a controlled substance. The bill would apply when any amount of a drug or medication not prescribed by a doctor is found in blood or urine tests.
Drivers could defend themselves against criminal charges by showing they were following doctors' orders in taking the drug or medication.
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