The Maneater

DWI offenders might soon have worse ‘headaches’ due to tougher laws

The amended law could make jail time mandatory and increase “hard walk” time.

A new bill could limit the driving privileges of those convicted of DWIs in Missouri.

A new Missouri bill proposed by Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Jefferson City, would take rights away from repeat driving while intoxicated offenders, as well as add penalties that could result in mandatory jail or community service time in some cases.

An individual over 21 who operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher or an individual under 21 who operates a motor vehicle with a BAC of .02 or higher would be charged with DWI, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Currently, Missouri law allows some repeat DWI offenders to commute to school, work, medical appointments or drug or alcohol treatments; to obtain an interlock service device; or to drive in hardship cases, Stouffer said.

“The federal government has decided that is not appropriate, so we are in the process of aligning state law with what the feds require,” he said.

Individuals who are convicted of DWI would be subject to a “hard walk” suspension of 45 days, up from 30 days, according to the Senate Bill 443. Additionally, under the current law, an individual can attend DWI court as an alternative to required community service or jail time, but the amended bill would eliminate this.

With the state of Missouri not in compliance with the federal government's statutes on DWI sentencing, the government allocates $15 million a year away from highway construction and puts it into the safety category, Stouffer said.

“The federal government is using our money to bribe us, to do what they want us to do before they give us our money back,” he said.

Should the bill pass, DWI offenders will no longer be granted limited driving privileges to attend medical appointments, or when the lack of transportation creates an undue hardship, according to the bill.

While the proposed bill is aimed at recovering highway construction funds, the Jefferson City chapter for Mothers Against Drunk Driving sees it as another step in the overall fight against drunk driving, said Bud Balke, MADD Missouri State Coordinator for Court Monitoring.

Balke sees the amendment as another addition to the four E’s he thinks are critical to success against drunk driving. Through engineering, education, enforcement and emergency medical services, MADD partners with communities and states, Balke said.

Through education of the public, the overall awareness surrounding drunk driving has increased, which has helped contribute to fewer fatalities, Balke said.

“Bubba is now realizing that he no longer has a God-given right to drive drunk and kill four of your relatives in the process,” Balke said.

As a result of focusing on the four E's, he points to changes in the number of DWI arrests that have been made. Currently, the state of Missouri averages more than 38,000 DWI arrests a year, down from 48,000 annually a decade ago.

The proposed bill amendment is a part of the overall fight against drunk driving. Missouri has a higher arrest rate per capita for DWI offenses than any of its eight adjoining states, which is a result of much effort, Balke said.

“We appreciate Stouffer sponsoring and endorsing the bill, and it is something that needs to take place in the state of Missouri," he said.

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