JEFFERSON CITY - Drunk driving laws need an overhaul, a Republican representative said, continuing what has been one of the major issues for the Democratic governor.
An extensive bill sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, to toughen drunk driving laws statewide was heard in a House committee Wednesday. Changes would increase the suspension period for drivers with a blood alcohol level of .15 percent or higher. In addition, Stevenson pushed for a more comprehensive statewide DWI tracking system to punish repeat offenders.
The current DWI tracking system is flawed, Stevenson said, and a few municipalities fail to report offenses to the state, ultimately causing repeat offenders to be charged and sentenced as first time offenders. Stevenson's bill would allow the governor to "withhold any state funds to a law enforcement agency or prosecuting or circuit attorney's office that fails to submit information."
"This is a very severe problem that certain municipalities are not reporting the information," Stevenson said. "We have to bring firm pressure to ensure that this information is reported."
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, expressed concern that cutting funds would threaten public safety and have a negative effect on the overall community.
"I don't think the way to deal with it is to strip funds," Nasheed said.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch agreed, however, with Stevenson, saying, "If nothing else comes out of it but we get the recording system straightened out, that will get a lot of the issues resolved."
McCulloch, who spoke on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said there was a problem with both the "quantity and quality" of reports and agreed that there should be "sanctions considered against those who don't comply." McCulloch said he did not support any tracking system in particular, just "as long as we have a place where that information is available."
Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis, questioned the motive behind a municipality that did not send any records. McCulloch attributed a failure to report to "laziness" and "incompetence."
"It is not that difficult to report," McCulloch said. "There's minimal information to get in."
Under the proposed legislation, an first time offender with an alcohol level of .15 percent or higher would have his or her license suspended for 45 days and one year of restricted driving privileges. This is an increase from the current law, which is a 30 day suspension and 60 days of restricted driving privileges. If a driver refused to submit to an alcohol or drug test, they would automatically receive the higher penalty. A second time offender with a level of .15 or higher would have his or her license suspended for 90 days and 458 days of restricted driving privileges.
The committee adjourned after almost two hours of discussion and testimony from one witness, McCulloch. The hearing will continue next week.