HELENA – Attorney General Steve Bullock on Thursday proposed a statewide expansion of a pilot program that requires anyone arrested more than once for drunken driving to take a breath test twice a day.
Bullock said the expansion would be the first step in his plan to toughen the state’s drunken-driving laws. He is also proposing criminal penalties for drivers who refuse to take a blood or breath test. And he wants to create a new charge of aggravated DUI for anyone who drives with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or higher.
The legal limit for drivers is 0.08.
The Democratic attorney general’s proposals would have to pass the GOP-controlled Legislature when lawmakers convene next month.
“I’m hopeful that all three of them end up with broad bipartisan support. This problem is not a Democrat or a Republican issue,” Bullock said. “I think these three (proposals) are great parts of what can be done.”
The first component — the statewide expansion of the 24/7 Sobriety Project — has taken a first step with Republican Rep.-elect Steve Lavin of Kalispell planning to sponsor the bill.
The proposal would require repeat offenders across the state to stay sober 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the time they are arrested until the completion of their sentence. Under the program, borrowed from South Dakota, an offender who fails a breath test or does not show up for one is jailed and their bond is revoked.
Lavin, a sergeant with the Montana Highway Patrol, called it fiscally responsible legislation that won’t cost the taxpayers any money because those who have to take the breath tests also have to pay for them.
“I just don’t see any opposition to it,” Lavin said. “I’ve talked to quite a few of my comrades, and they seem to like it.”
Lavin said he was not as familiar with the other two proposals — criminal penalties for people who refuse drunken-driving tests and increased penalties for those convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent or higher — but that they sounded like good ideas.
Bullock’s office plans to have legislation drafted for his proposal to criminalize breath test refusals.
A legislative committee has been working during the interim on nearly a dozen proposals dealing with drunken driving to take to the 2011 Legislature. One of the Law and Justice Interim Committee’s proposals would create an aggravated DUI charge for a blood-alcohol content of 0.2 and above.
Bullock said he plans to ask the committee to amend its legislation to lower the threshold to 0.15.
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