Politics & Government

Sponsor trying to revive stalled bill that bans drugged driving

FRANKFORT - As the clock to pass legislation winds down, Sen. Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville is furiously trying to revive a stalled bill that would make it easier to prosecute driving under the influence of drugs.

Senate Bill 67, which makes it illegal to drive after having consumed a controlled substance, cruised through the Senate last week. But the bill, sponsored by Jones, hit a snag in the House Judiciary Committee, where chairwoman Kathy Stein of Lexington and other Democrats fear it might be unconstitutional.

Yesterday, Jones promised to attach it to every Senate Bill he can in an effort to force a House vote. The first he will target is a popular measure sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, outlawing an alcohol-vaporizer device to consume alcohol.

If it kills Westrom's bill, so be it, Jones said.

"They weren't afraid to kill my drugged-driver bill, and I think this bill is more important than that alcohol-machine bill," he said. "If we pass that bill, it's inexcusable" not to pass his bill.

Senate Bill 67 would create a presumption that somebody who drives with illegal drugs in their system, no matter how small an amount, is driving under the influence. Currently, prosecutors must prove that the driver is impaired, by relying on police and witness testimony, sobriety tests and other evidence.

The measure would not prohibit drivers taking medications that had been prescribed to them.

The measure is supported by the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys Association and the Kentucky County Attorneys Association. Prosecutors say that judges throughout the state are throwing out blood test evidence if prosecutors do not call a pharmacologist to testify that the drugs impaired the driver.

Prosecutors say they can't afford to hire the expert witnesses for drug DUI cases.

But some Democrats and criminal-defense lawyers say that presuming somebody is guilty of a crime runs into constitutional issues. They say prosecutors have more than enough tools to prosecute drugged drivers.

Stein said yesterday that she's not trying to kill the bill. She has said she agrees drugged driving is a problem, but "the delicate rights of the accused have to be looked after."

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, noted that the law already presumes a minor is driving under the influence if he consumes any alcohol. And there are already laws in Kentucky that prohibit commercial drivers from having any amount of controlled substance in their system, said Rick Bartley, president of the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys Association.