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Bills would toughen penalties for DUI

FRANKFORT — People caught driving drunk just once could be forced to install breath-alcohol monitoring devices in their cars, as Kentucky lawmakers consider toughening the state's DUI laws.

House lawmakers are considering proposals aimed at increasing the use of ignition locks, which require people to prove they're not drunk by blowing into a device before starting their vehicles. Another plan would also decrease the current blood-alcohol level that triggers an aggravating factor in DUI sentencing.

"The problem is we've got people that are driving 100 times before they even get caught drinking and driving," said state Rep. Dennis Keene, D-Wilder. "A lot of these people re-offend, and this would curtail them from using their car while they're out drinking and driving. There's a tremendous call for this."

Advocates have been pushing for tougher DUI laws across the country. Recently, that push has included widening the use of ignition locks for people with one conviction for driving drunk.

Nationally, states have different levels of use for the breath-monitoring devices.

This year, Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska and Washington began requiring first-time drunken drivers to install the gadgets on their cars. Repeat offenders in South Carolina, meanwhile, were also required to use the devices if they want to keep driving.

Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico have similar laws on the books.

Kentucky is one of 11 states considering such legislation, according to the Washington-based American Beverage Institute, which represents restaurants and retailers.

Kentucky judges already have the authority to impose the devices — which also require periodic tests while the vehicle is in use — on people who get caught driving drunk more than once.

Keene's proposal would require it. And for more people.

State Rep. Dennis Horlander, a Democrat from Shively, has proposed requiring motorists caught driving with a blood-alcohol level of .15 — less than twice the legal limit — or who refuse a breathalyzer test to have an ignition lock installed on their vehicles. Horlander is one of 21 co-sponsors on Keene's plan.

"I think the guys that are going out here constantly having problems, the repeat offenders, I think this will help a lot with them," Horlander said.

Keene said his proposal is modeled after the plan Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been pushing nationally.

Angela Criswell, executive director of Kentucky's chapter of MADD, said requiring the devices would reduce the number of people who repeatedly drive drunk. The move would also reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the state, Criswell said.

But not everyone supports the idea.

Sarah Longwell, managing director of American Beverage Institute, said the legislation does not take into account a motorist's level of intoxication.

The legal blood-alcohol concentration in Kentucky is 0.08 or higher. Someone who has just barely exceeded the limit should not be punished as severely as someone who's far more drunk, Longwell said.

Instead, the group supports giving judges discretion when dealing with first-time offenders, she said. Mandatory interlocks should also be required on people with blood alcohol concentrations above .15 and repeat offenders, Longwell said.

The legislation is House Bill 180, and House Bill 365.