House Backs Bill to Toughen Laws for Repeat DUI

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A proposal to toughen the penalties against repeat drunk drivers was endorsed by the House Monday, one of a number of measures attempting to crack down on high drunk-driving rates in Montana.

House Bill 14 carried by Democratic Rep. Mike Menahan would let courts look back to impaired driving offenses up to 10 years old when someone is being punished for a drunk-driving charge, a change from the current five-year cutoff.

The measure, which was backed by the House on an 88-12 vote, allows courts to hit more offenders with tougher second-offense penalties, such as suspending offenders’ licenses.

One of the opponents was a bar owner who argued the bill is bad for business.

“These DUI bills are destroying small businesses,” said Republican Rep. Alan Hale from Basin.

Many lawmakers say Montana’s current penalties for drunk drivers are too lenient, allowing impaired drivers to tally repeat offences and stay on the road.

“It’s dead wrong that we are allowing this tragedy to go on and on,” said Republican House Majority Leader Tom McGilvray of Billings

Democratic Rep. Robert Mehlhoff from Great Falls agreed with McGilvray’s sentiment and added that he thought it was important to toughen laws on drunk drivers without extending jail sentences which Mehlhoff said aren’t as effective as alternative punishments.

“I would hope we start to look more and more at how we accomplish the end of drunk driving on our roads without long jail sentences,” Mehlhoff said.

The proposal is one of several before lawmakers this session to stiffen drunk driving regulations.

Menahan, a county attorney, is carrying a number of those drunk driving measures. On Saturday his bills to increase penalties for drunk driving and help rehabilitate offenders cleared the Senate after already clearing the House.

Other bills still before the Legislature stiffen drunk driving laws by increasing penalties for repeat offenders and setting up a round-the-clock sobriety system.

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