DUI bill on way to governor

TOPEKA — Major changes in Kansas' DUI law are on their way to the governor, despite concerns by some that they don't go far enough.

Senate Bill 6 requires first-time DUI offenders to use interlock devices when they drive, strengthens penalties for DUIs and creates a system to better track repeat offenders.

It passed the House 121-0 and the Senate 39-0 on Thursday.

"It's a good law that will save lives," said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, and chair of the House's Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. "This bill is a huge advancement for public safety in Kansas."

The bill is the culmination of work by the Kansas DUI Commission, formed after a drunken driver crashed into and killed a 4-year-old girl and her mother three years ago in Wichita. The commission was tasked with finding ways to reduce drunken driving to prevent more fatalities on Kansas roads.

A few representatives, including Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, spoke against the measure, saying they were concerned about removing a requirement that licenses for drivers with five or more DUIs be revoked.

"I think we are moving backwards on that," Dillmore said.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, expressed the same concern. When such a drunken driver kills someone, he said, "we're likely to be back here on revocation."

Supporters of the bill said people drive drunk with or without a license. And they said the bill had too many good aspects to not pass.

Kinzer ultimately agreed, saying the "overall impact is a step in the right direction."

A critical piece of the bill is a central repository that law enforcement, prosecutors and judges will use to access records on drivers.

Sometimes they don't know how many times a driver has been convicted of a DUI. That was the case in the accident that killed Claudia Mijares and her daughter while they were crossing the street to go to school.

Prosecutors charged the driver with his fifth DUI after the accident, state and county records show. But because of gaps in reporting, the state driver's license database showed only two of those convictions. That led to questions about how meaningful the state's DUI laws can be if law enforcement, prosecutors and judges don't know how many times a driver has gotten behind the wheel while under the influence.

Funding for the repository was in question a few weeks ago, but the Kansas Department of Transportation juggled its budget to find $2.5 million for it. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation will oversee the repository.

The bill also requires first-time offenders to install an interlock device in their vehicle. The device measures a driver's breath alcohol level. If the driver doesn't blow a clean test, his or her car won't start.

The devices will be mandatory for six months for first-time offenders and for 12 months for first-time offenders who have been convicted of an open container violation, had a blood alcohol level higher than .015 when stopped by law enforcement or had three or more moving traffic violations in a year.

Kansas already had required interlock devices for drivers convicted of a second drunken-driving offense, who refuse a Breathalyzer test, or who are caught with a 0.15 or greater blood alcohol level — almost twice the legal limit of 0.08.

It would join 11 other states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington — in requiring ignition interlock for all DUIs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The interlock requirement for first-time offenders would be set to end in four years so legislators could evaluate it.

The bill also raises fines — the minimum fine for a DUI misdemeanor would be $750, up from $500.

The fate of the bill was in question last week when legislators were slow to put money in the state's 2012 budget to fund community corrections for DUI offenders. Budget negotiators agreed on $1.5 million for community corrections, and that, combined with an increase in fines, should help corrections be able to monitor offenders, Colloton said.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, had been ready to throw out the bill at one point if legislators didn't fund community corrections.

Mary Ann Khoury, president and CEO of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas in Wichita, said earlier this week that she was encouraged about the repository, first-time interlock and funding for community corrections. But she said she was disappointed that the state will not make refusing a breath alcohol test a crime, as originally proposed by the DUI commission.

"We're so far behind" other states, Khoury said.

She said she also had hoped the state would raise taxes on alcohol, another proposal from the commission that was not included in the current bill.

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