Politics & Government

Wichita council lauds youths for fighting alcohol, repeals DUI ordinance

Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell honors Youth Council for efforts to fight underage drinking. (April 12, 2016)
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell honors Youth Council for efforts to fight underage drinking. (April 12, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Minutes after honoring teens for fighting underage drinking, the Wichita City Council had to repeal a city ordinance requiring suspected repeat drunken drivers to submit to a Breathalyzer test.

Mayor Jeff Longwell said the council had no choice but to repeal the drunk-driving ordinance, which mirrored a state law that was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

The law at issue made it a misdemeanor for a person to refuse a breath test at a traffic stop if he or she had been convicted of drunk driving or had refused a breath test previously. The penalty was the same as for a drunken-driving conviction.

In a 6-1 decision on a Shawnee County case, the Supreme Court ruled the law “facially unconstitutional,” saying an individual has a right to refuse consent to a warrantless search.

“Punishing an individual for exercising that right with criminal penalties, as the State has chosen to do … violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court opinion said.

Police can still get a warrant and require a DUI suspect to submit to a blood test, by force if necessary, the court ruling said.

City Attorney Jennifer Magana told the council that in wake of that court decision, “we are unable to continue to enforce the (city) ordinance without violating a citizen’s constitutional rights. … We really think this (repeal) is the only route that can be taken.”

The unanimous vote to repeal the DUI ordinance came less than half an hour after Longwell declared April “Alcohol Awareness Month” and presented a proclamation to the Mayor’s Youth Council for combatting underage drinking.

Battling youth substance abuse has been a priority for the group since it was established in 2008 by then-Mayor Carl Brewer, Longwell said.

Anna Jenney, co-chair of the youth council’s prevention and education committee, announced that the group would hold its first “alcohol-free jamboree” on Friday at Linwood Park.

The event will include food, games and activities to “encourage students to find their natural highs and interact with students from all districts,” she said. The event, from 5 to 9 p.m. is open to all local youth in grades 8-12.

After the meeting, Longwell said he was disappointed the city had to repeal the DUI ordinance, but “I still am thankful we have this energetic group of young folks willing to help us” with alcohol and substance abuse prevention.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas