JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Jay Nixon said the "status quo is simply not acceptable" when it comes to current state driving-while-intoxicated procedures.
Providing opening remarks to a panel of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel from across the state, Nixon said the laws and reporting methods need to be strengthened and drunk drivers need to be treated sternly and equally across Missouri.
"Too often the most dangerous, chronically intoxicated drivers are still allowed to keep driving," Nixon said.
Following his remarks, Nixon left, turning the meeting over to the panel for discussion.
Dwight Scroggins, prosecuting attorney for Buchanan County, said a problem exists in the way the state treats first offenders.
"The scheme is based on how may times you get caught," Scroggins said.
Even though the state treats first offenders as if they've made a one-time mistake, he said, studies show most first offenders are actually repeat offenders who have just not gotten caught.
Some DWI offenders tried in municipal courts received a suspended sentence where the conviction does not show up on the offender's record upon completion of conditions set down by a judge, usually classes, public service or an alcohol assessment.
Scroggins said he was in favor of doing away with these suspended sentences - known as SIS - though a number of other panelists disagreed.
It would be an "enormous mistake to take SIS away totally," said St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch
Kevin Kelly, a municipal judge in Maryland Heights, agreed with McCulloch because a suspended sentence "gives a judge something to hang over the head" of offenders, he said.
The sharing of DWI records between municipalities was another major topic of discussion.
Missouri already has a system in place to keep track of DWI offenders statewide. Judges and prosecutors can report DWI offenses to the system, known as DWITS, but the reporting is voluntary.
"If everybody reported to DWITS we wouldn't have a reporting problem, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Keathley.
Privacy concerns were not voiced by any of the panelists.
"If someone can steal my identity from Sri Lanka, certainly we can have some kind of reporting system to get information into one database," Mother Against Drunk Driving representative Mike Boland said.
Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle proposed making the records of anyone convicted of a DWI available to the public on the Revenue Department's website, similar to the registry of sex offenders.
A number of panelists also discussed the possibility of requiring DWI offenders to install interlock devices, which require drivers to pass an in-car breathalyser before a vehicle's motor will start, in lieu of receiving a suspension of driving privileges.
"For a hardcore drunk, suspending a a license has zero impact and effect on the individual," McCulloch said
Kelly, who also works as a defense attorney on DWI cases, said this idea would allow people to continue working or going to treatment who would have violated their suspension.
Jefferson City circuit judge Robert Wilkins proposed a plan similar to Kelly's, but under which the state would allow offenders to drive on a suspended license for emergency or work reasons, Wilkins said, as long as drivers have insurance and install the interlock device.
Finally, some panelists said that a growing number of motorists are simply refusing to take breathalysers administrated by law enforcement officials.
Under current Missouri law, motorists who refuse a breathalyser are supposed to lose their driver's license for a year, but a number of panelists complained that penalties are often plead down.
The state should enact a law that prohibits motorists from refusing a breathalyser, Keathley said, adding that a similar law already exists in South Dakota. Any person who operates a motor vehicle in South Dakota is considered to have given consent to a chemical analysis of their breath, according to a South Dakota law.
Nixon said he wants to have a bill concerning new DWI laws filed before the next legislative session begins in January.