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VOL. 123 | NO. 22 | Friday, February 01, 2008

Republicans Propose Bills to Strengthen DUI Laws

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Republican leaders are proposing a series of bills they say would further crack down on drunken driving in Tennessee, including a measure that would allow officers to immediately confiscate licenses during arrests.

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, announced in his State of the State address earlier this week that he has included in his budget proposal money to pay for the license measure, but Republicans claimed Thursday their package of bills would go further.

"We are pleased the governor has come on board with his support of the automatic license revocation that we have been pushing for years, but we think we can ... do more," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet.

Bredesen's spokeswoman said Thursday the governor has not yet seen the proposed legislation.

Besides automatic license suspensions, one comprehensive bill would require ignition interlocks for the cars of DUI offenders, lower the blood-alcohol content for "extreme DUI" charges from 0.2 to .15 percent and stiffen penalties for refusing a breathalyzer test.

Another would stiffen penalties for possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

"We believe it's time to get tough on drunken drivers in Tennessee," said Rep. Tom DuBois, Columbia Republican and co-sponsor of four DUI bills with Beavers. "It's as dangerous as someone aiming into a crowd and pulling the trigger."

In 2006, there were 1,284 fatalities on Tennessee roads, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety. Of those, 509 had a blood-alcohol content of .01 percent or above.

Legislators said Tennessee only has five of the 11 elements proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board for a comprehensive approach to lowering DUI incidents.

Besides lowering the level for extreme drunken driving, NTSB also urges legislation to enhance license confiscation, vehicle immobilization, vehicle impoundment, zero tolerance for repeat offenders and enactment of an ALR program.

Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, is co-sponsoring legislation that would add a charge of vehicular homicide as a result of the driver's intoxication and aggravated vehicular homicide to offenses requiring at least 85 percent of a sentence to be served.

"The bottom line is that this state must reform our drunk driving laws," Hill said. "There must be consequences for irresponsible actions - actions that kill and that put other law-abiding citizens in grave danger."

Read the full texts of HB2877, HB2876, SB3040, SB3042, HB2875, SB1081 and HB3091 on the Legislature's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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