Upcoming House Vote on Amended DUI Bill

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

House geared to vote on amended DUI bill

Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — A proposed update in West Virginia’s drunken driving law exited a key House panel with one alteration that proponents say is acceptable.

Omitted was a provision in the Senate version that would have mandated blood alcohol tests of any motorist suspected of being drunk after a fatal highway accident.

Donna Hawkins, head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in West Virginia who spearheaded the legislation, wanted to see the Senate bill left intact.

But Hawkins said Wednesday she was assured by House Judiciary Chairwoman Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, that she would draft a bill for the 2009 session to deal with such testing.

A House vote on the revised bill is expected Friday.

“I have no problem with it,” Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said.

Foster was pleased the House panel didn’t tamper with the major components, led by a new offense of “aggravated DUI” for motorists with a BAC of .15 or above. For them, Interlocks attached to vehicles to test a driver’s breath for alcohol would be mandatory.

First-time offenders would have the option of using Interlocks, and the incentive built in the measure would cut in half their license suspension from the existing 30-day period.

A third key element eliminates the mandatory 24-hour lockup for first-time offenders with a BAC of .08 to .149 as a cost-cutting step for counties, many of which are struggling to pay regional jail costs.

Existing practice allows counties to be charged the per diem rate of $48.50 (due to be cut by 97 cents in July) twice since an offender can be jailed a few hours, then returned after going before a magistrate.

Jail costs are swallowing up much of some county budgets. Last year, for instance, Raleigh County was billed more than $2.5 million for keeping inmates at Southern Regional Jail.

“The main points of our legislation are in there,” said Foster, who worked closely most of last year with an ad hoc committee anchored by Hawkins while lawmakers prepared a bill in tandem during the interims.

“I’m convinced it will save lives. And also, it will save resources for the state as well. It’s a good combination.”

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