Crime & Courts

Conference committee comes to agreement on DUI bill

TOPEKA — First-time DUI offenders would be required to use interlock devices in their cars under a sweeping DUI bill advanced by a committee on Monday.

Senate Bill 6 also would toughen penalties for DUIs and create a central repository to track offenders, among other things.

Six members of a conference committee hashed out details of the bill Monday. Their work still must be approved by the House and Senate as the session winds down this week.

The bill requires interlocks for six months for first-time DUI offenders with a clean driving record. Interlocks are devices that test a driver's alcohol level. If the driver fails to blow a clean test, his or her car won't start.

For first-time DUI offenders convicted of three or more moving traffic violations in a year, interlocks would be required for a year.

Whether to make first-time offenders install such a device in their vehicles had been a sticking point for legislators.

"We have a bill," Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, said, smiling, at the end of late-afternoon meeting Monday. The committee's statute revisor planned to work on the bill Monday night and prepare it for conferees to sign today.

Every state except Alabama has some sort of ignition interlock law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven states — Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah and Washington — require interlock devices for all DUI offenders. Some require first-time offenders to drive with them for six months; others for a year. Utah requires them for 18 months.

Kansas already requires interlock devices for drivers who are 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.

Still in question is $2 million for community corrections for DUI offenders. That money is not included in House and Senate budget proposals at this point.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, noted that the Senate Ways and Means Committee's latest budget proposal Monday leaves the state with an ending balance of $55 million. The governor and the House are shooting for an ending budget of at least $50 million. Between those two bottom lines, there should be $2 million to help keep people safer on the road, he said.

"People's lives are worth that," he said.

If budget negotiators can't find the money, "the public's going to know. The public that I represent is not happy that we're not doing something better about DUIs," Owens said.

The House agreed to put $2 million in its budget to pay for community corrections for DUI offenders, but House budget negotiators later accepted the Senate's position not to fund it.

Owens called on conferees to push hard to get the money as legislators move into their final days of the session.

"We have to take a strong stand in this committee," and tell budget negotiators that "we believe that this issue is so important that you need to do this funding," Owens said.

Earlier Monday, at the committee's first meeting of the day, Owens noted that when you cross the Red River into Texas, you see three signs. One welcomes you to Texas. The second says "Don't Mess with Texas." The third features the letters "DUI" with a slash through them and warns "In Texas, you can't afford it."

"And they mean it," Owens said. "We have to get serious about getting people off the streets," he said.

Owens chairs the state's DUI commission, formed after a drunken driver crashed into and killed Claudia Mijares and her daughter, Gisele, as they were walking across the street to school in Wichita in 2008.