DUI for Drugs Fails in Montana Legislative Committee

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A plan to issue DUIs for those under the influence of dangerous drugs was rejected Tuesday in a legislative committee amid concerns there is no valid test for determining impairment.

The measure was a small piece of the drunken driving reform working through the Legislature.

Another, much larger, reform initiative that would require repeat offenders to undergo twice-daily breath tests at their own expense was unanimously endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday and will go to the full House.

But members of that panel from across the political spectrum opposed a plan to create offenses for driving under the influence of drugs.

Opponents argued there is no valid blood test to prove who is impaired by drugs, such as the agent in marijuana that shows up in such a test. Someone can test positive for the substance long after impairment has worn off, and it is also possible for someone to be impaired before they even register on the blood test.

The opponents argued that passing the proposed law could tangle up the courts with costly appeals.

“We don’t have the scientific data to achieve the goal this bill is trying to do,” said Rep. Krayton Kerns, a conservative Laurel Republican. “We are demanding things the scientific community cannot answer.”

Kerns, a favorite of ardent tea party supporters and vice chairman of the judiciary panel, has opposed some other aspects of the drunken driving reform. He argues much of it simply tries to do more of the same things by stiffening penalties and will lead to more expense without really solving the problem.

But Kerns was among those endorsing the so-called “24/7” sobriety program being supported by Attorney General Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

“I do believe that hell is freezing over, because I am in strong support of Attorney General Bullock’s bill here,” Kerns said. “This is a step in the right direction.”

Supporters argue it will go a long way to making sure repeat offenders don’t drink. And the offenders themselves have to pay for the twice daily tests.

A Senate committee on Tuesday was getting its first look at another part of the drunken driving reform that would require more training for workers who serve alcohol in bars and restaurants.

DUI proposals in front of the Legislature tackle the issue a variety of ways, including tougher penalties for those who are exceptionally drunk, more treatment options, additional monitoring of offenders and a tougher stance against minors who drink.

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