By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
A bill that would target habitual drunk drivers in Nebraska has been scheduled for a hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee today (Thursday).
State Senator Pete Pirsch of Omaha said LB 675, which he sponsored, was introduced “to help eliminate the death and carnage that is regularly occurring on our streets because of drunk drivers.”
Pirsch said there are 116 individuals with 10 or more Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions in Nebraska, according to State Department of Motor Vehicles records.
“These offenders are the worst of the worst, and have no sincere interest in changing their dangerous ways,” the senator stated.
There are six portions to the bill, he pointed out.
Under LB 675, drunk drivers with four prior convictions would receive a mandatory minimum five years in jail.
Pirsch said Nebraska ranks third in the nation in per capita drunk drivers.
He added that statistics point out that for every time one person has been arrested for DUI, he could have been caught 80-200 other times. There are “some 14,000 DUI cases filed in the state every year,” he added.
Another part of the bill would create a new criminal offense that would apply to those already convicted of felony drunk driving. Such offenders would be prohibited from driving a vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .02 or over.
Law enforcement could discover that when the person is stopped for a traffic violation.
“It’s a zero-tolerance approach for these serial drunk drivers,” Sen. Pirsch stated.
State law says persons may be arrested for DUI if they have a BAC of .08 or over.
“It’s time to get these people out of the pool. These people have been offered a hand up time and time again, and for some reason or another have declined to accept it,” he said.
“By the time you get to this level, the state has expended a great deal of money to help or rehabilitate these people.”
In addition, the bill would double fines for all drunk drivers. “We’re sadly behind other states with our fines,” Sen. Pirsch said. “A big fine has a way of capturing their attention.”
The bill would also toughen penalties for a driver leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death or serious bodily injury.
“We want to create an incentive for drunk drivers to stay with an injured party, to do the right thing,” he explained.
The fifth part of the bill would create a new criminal offense for those driving a vehicle with any measurable amount of illegal drugs in their system.
“Often times it’s difficult to establish drugged driving,” the senator said, commenting that although there’s a breathalizer for alcohol, there isn’t one for drugs.
“If we can create a stand-alone offense (from drunk driving) so we don’t have to get into proving impairment,” that will help.
The last part of the bill would change the “look back period” to count DUIs in a person’s past from 12 years to 20 years. Sen. Pirsch said that as it stands now, if a person had DUIs from 15, 16 and 17 years ago, those don’t count toward a fourth offense DUI if the person picks up another one today.
Imperial Police Chief Larry Browning said he doesn’t know how many people in the area have repeated DUIs.
He thinks LB 675 has “good intentions,” but feels part of the problem in enforcing current DUI laws rests in the courtroom.
“It’s really hard to get people convicted of third offense or even second. It still winds up being (a lesser offense) after the courts get through with it.”
Browning added, “I don’t know if it (LB 675) will change those situations.”
Chase County Sheriff Kevin Mueller agreed.
“My concern is that we have laws on the books now, but in law enforcement we see repeat offenders getting pled down to second offense.
“I’m in favor of it (LB 675) as long as we can get them convicted of laws we currently have. It’s in the judicial system where we see a lack of enforcing the laws we have,” he said.
Sen. Pirsch said that, to his knowledge, a similar DUI bill hasn’t been introduced in the Legislature before. “It’s a unique set of factors,” he explained. “The large part is designed to get the worst of the worst, the hard core,” off the streets.