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Published April 02 2013

Forum editorial: Weakened DUI bill won’t help

As the Legislature pushes new DUI legislation through the legislative meat grinder, this much is apparent: DUI laws will not be significantly toughened this session, despite the tragedies DUI traffic accidents visit on North Dakota families every day. Lawmakers seem reluctant to do what is necessary to reduce DUI accidents, and instead are settling for relatively meaningless incremental baby steps at a time when alcohol-related traffic accidents are on the rise.

The devolution of DUI legislation is disappointing, in part because the early intent of legislators appeared to be to do something that could make a positive difference on the state’s roads. Responding to two recent horrific fatal DUI accidents, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, and others said all the right things about toughening DUI laws. But the final amended and watered-down product won’t come close to sending a strong enough message to would-be drunken drivers.

Among the excuses for avoiding a tough DUI law: First-offense jail time and a $5,000 fine will crowd the courts. Really? So, as a letter writer to The Forum aptly put it, instead we’ll fill the cemeteries.

Probably the most mind-boggling amendment to the original legislation was raising the drunken-driving blood alcohol level from 0.15 percent to 0.21 percent. The higher level is falling-down drunk for most people and would give many drunken drivers a pass. That change alone suggests legislators are not ready to make the state’s highways safer.

Opportunity to make the surviving DUI bill meaningful will come in conference committee. Koppelman’s HB 1302 is but a shadow of its original form – gutted by amendment. The conference should fix it by restoring tougher penalties. A weak bill will not keep drunken drivers off the roads.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.