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April 20, 1999
By: Maria Andres
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 18 & HB 723

JEFFERSON CITY - Nearly 300 school children converged on Missouri's statehouse Tuesday to rally legislators to get tougher on drinking and driving.

"Drunk driving is a crime, we can't say it enough!"

Slogans like this were displayed on posters and hundreds of t-shirts were delivered around the Capitol building.

The rally was in support of a proposal to lower the legal definition of drunken driving from a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent -- called BAC.

The House has tacked that idea onto an unrelated bill on auto registration. In the Senate, however, the measure has suffered a more hostile environment.

Although approved by the Senate Crime Committee, the chairman -- Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler -- delayed several weeks before reporting the bill to the full Senate. Caskey's delay allowed a long list of other bills to be reported ahead of the drunken driving bill.

"We have learned not to expect Harold Caskey to support alcohol issues," said Mike Boland, spokesman of MADD. "We only want this senator to understand that it is not a lobbyist issue, it is a drunk driving safety issue. The man just refuses to hear the message."

Caskey refused comment about the issue Tuesday.

But MADD is not giving up easily. Working with the state's Highway Safety Division, the students gave a proclamation to the Gov. Mel Carnahan, supporting the 0.08 BAC level.

Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway and sponsor of the 0.08 BAC bill, praised MADD's efforts.

"People's support to that measure is what we need to generate more activity in the legislature," Westfall said. "Obviously there are some individual reluctances on the part of some members of the legislature. On the other hand, people here realize that they are supposed to represent the people and when they see the public support out there maybe then we get the votes to pass it."

The rally was given the title "Vote for Kim" for Debbie Lundstrom's 18 year-old daughter, Kim, who was killed in Aug. 1994 by a .08 impaired driver. Lundstrom is one of the MADD's members that spoke on Tuesday.

"I speak for Kim today. I want to say these students that when they vote for Kim they vote for all our futures. I wonder who is next," said Lundstrom.

The Missouri Association of Beverage Retailers is one of the major opponents to the plan. The organization argues it would be prejudicial against liquor sellers and would not be effective in preventing accidents because it would only punish the social drinker, spokesman Mark Bredenkoettter said.

"Accidents with .08 happen, look at Kim," argued Boland. "It's not social drinking, that is the game it has been put out there. If you go to your dentist and he asks you to come in an hour after he has drunk five beers, you are not going to do that. So why do we get people with five drinks on the road?. 0.08 BAC drivers are impaired."

But Beverage retailers' group doesn't agree.

"Impairment can be anything. A person with a handicap sticker is impaired," Bredenkoetter said. "The fact is that even the elderly are impaired to drive at certain age."

Teenagers that cooperate with MADD still think the current BAC law represents a considerable risk for drivers.

"I realized that one of my best friends was drunk and I tried to take the keys away from her but I couldn't. She wound up in a reck. I would say to those people that they can die, but I won't have to," said Ashley Sekscinski, 16.

Some bars of Columbia, however, are concerned about their businesses if the .08 initiative is passed.

"Personally, I think they should enforce more the current law instead of lowering the BAC to 0.08," said Rusty Walls, manager of Heidelberg. "It might affect the bar, although not as much as others because most of our customers come here walking."

Col. Wildon Wilhoit, superintendent of Missouri Highway Patrol supported the measure.

"Even if the plan doesn't pass the legislature, we can still enforce the current law that we have. If we have a reason to stop somebody that is impaired, even if they only check .08, we can submit that information to the prosecuting attorney wherever the jurisdiction is and say "this is the impairment involved where we found charges," Wilhoit said. "We are not giving up yet."