District 24 legislators from both the D-NPL and Republican parties back a proposal by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple that will significantly strengthen North Dakota’s DUI laws.
Newly elected Republican Rep. Dwight Kiefert and D-NPL Sen. Larry Robinson both said Tuesday they support the governor’s proposal.
New . Naomi Muscha was out of state, and not available for comment.
Robinson said, “I am supportive of the proposed legislation and look forward to the debate and discussion this bill will bring to the legislative process. We clearly have work to do in this area. In addition to the proposed legislation, there is also much to do in the area of education and awareness. This issue has taken many innocent lives. We must respond appropriately.”
The issue is more personal to Kiefert, who said he lost his son, Matthew, to a drunken driver in a 1987 accident.
“People have to realize driving is a privilege, not a right … and looking at the proposal, I support the new proposed law,” Kiefert said.
Said Kiefert, “I lost a son to a DUI driver in 1987 – “he (Kiefert’s son) was on a school bus. I wonder if we had such a law then my son might be alive today.”
Kiefert said, “If you can afford to be inebriated, you can afford to call a cab (to be driven home).”
He said that North Dakota’s current DUI laws are lenient compared to most other states, “And this is an issue that affects other people, not just themselves.”
Kiefert said North Dakota’s DUI strategies could also be improved by “having more help with addiction problems,” which could allow North Dakota to go after the problem from more than one angle.
Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced the proposal in a joint news conference Tuesday in Fargo.
The legislation would make North Dakota one of 15 states to require jail time for first-time DUI offenders, and increase fines and penalties for repeat offenders. It would change current law to require mandatory blood tests, probation and participation in a sobriety program.
Presently, North Dakota has a mandatory minimum penalty for a drunk driving conviction of a $250 fine and a chemical dependency evaluation. Other than the state-required minimum, penalties for offenders varies from judge to judge and from judicial district to judicial district.
The proposal increases most of the minimum mandatory jail sentences. Current law does not require jail time for a first offender and calls for a minimum 10-day sentence for second offenses and beyond. The proposed rules call for at least four days in jail for first-time offenders, 10 days for second, 60 days for third and one year for fourth and beyond.
DUI arrests in North Dakota shot up 53 percent in the last 10 years, including 6,600 arrests last year. The average blood-alcohol content of North Dakota drunken drivers in 2011 was the highest since 2006.
In announcing the proposal, Dalrymple said, “We cannot allow more and more lives to be lost or irreparably harmed by drunk drivers. The proposal is enforceable and a more effective deterrent for those who would consider driving while under the influence or alcohol or drugs.”
According to the governor, last year 148 people died on North Dakota roads and alcohol was involved in 47 percent of the accidents. So far in 2012, 158 people have died in North Dakota traffic accidents, and alcohol was a factor in 53 percent of the fatal crashes.