This is MO Senator Luann Ridgeway’s 8/31 capitol report. In it she discusses some actions by the legislature on alcohol related issues. Great job on this legislation!
Cracking Down on Alcohol Abuse
Just in case you ever wonder if your legislators really listen to your concerns — and then actually do something about them — this report will interest you. A group of young people in Clay and Platte counties belong to a group called “Youth With Vision,” which promotes healthy life choices for teens as well as works against alcohol and drug use and abuse. These active youngsters brought to my attention that a very deadly device known as an “Alcohol Without Liquid” (AWOL) machine was being marketed to teens and college students. With their support and active participation, I have been working for three years to pass a law in Missouri to ban the use and possession of these devices. This year, we were successful.
Senate Bill 26 passed and was recently signed into law by the governor, allowing Missouri to join the ranks of the more than 20 states that have banned the AWOL devices. It prohibits any person from possessing or using an alcoholic beverage vaporizer, which is a machine that mixes hard liquor with pure oxygen, allowing a person to breathe or snort the mixture and inhale it into the lungs. These machines are so dangerous because they allow the alcohol to directly bypass the stomach and liver—which have the job of filtering out the toxins—and head straight to the blood stream, making the alcohol’s effect on the brain happen much quicker and with such intensity that death can result. The ban on alcohol vaporizers was supported not only by anti-drug groups, but the alcohol industry itself (specifically, Anheuser-Busch). Anyone found with an AWOL device in our state is committing a class B misdemeanor. The bill was effective August 28.
Deadly collisions due to alcohol or drug use remain a significant risk to law-abiding drivers and passengers in Missouri. It is a core government function to provide for public safety. I am always searching for the means to keep those convicted of alcohol- or drug-related crimes both 1) free of drug/alcohol use and abuse, and 2) gainfully employed so they don’t wind up on the welfare rolls. Two options that accomplish these goals became law this year.
I sponsored a bill that allows a court to require persons convicted of alcohol-related offenses to wear continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) devices in certain cases. This provision passed as an amendment to the comprehensive crime bill, House Bill 62, and became effective July 9. In intoxication-related traffic offenses, which tend to be committed by repeat offenders, it may be beneficial for an individual’s alcohol use to be monitored by the court. Under the new law, a judge is allowed to order a person who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of an intoxication-related traffic offense to refrain from consuming alcohol. To ensure the person isn’t drinking alcoholic beverages, he or she must agree to either wear a CAM device or submit to breath alcohol testing as a condition of probation. While on probation, the offender is not only allowed — but may be required — to be gainfully employed. The CAM device helps ensure that the offender is not using alcohol and, if they do, an immediate alert is transmitted to authorities. The alert can help stop another alcohol-induced incident before it happens.
Finally, a 2008 alcohol-related bill took effect July 1, making it more difficult for repeat DWI offenders to drive while intoxicated. A provision contained in Senate Bill 930 requires the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the vehicles of certain drivers with multiple alcohol-related driving offenses. An IID is a breath-testing instrument connected to a vehicle’s ignition, horn and headlights. To start the vehicle, a driver must breathe into the device without registering a detectable blood alcohol concentration. In addition, drivers must blow into the device at random intervals while driving to ensure they are not drinking after starting the car. The interlock devices have the ability to record data and may be checked by authorities. This is another attempt to allow offenders on probation to work, and still protect the public from drunk drivers.
The law applies to offenders from July 1, onward, but the Missouri Department of Revenue estimated as many as 70,000 drivers whose driving privileges were already restricted at the time the new law was enacted were also affected and informed they needed to obtain the devices. While each case is different, in general, any driver charged with an alcohol-related offense who has a previous alcohol offense on his or her record may be required to have an IID installed in order to reinstate driving privileges. Once the device is installed and the person’s driving privileges are reinstated, the device must remain in the vehicle for at least six months. If a driver is convicted of operating a vehicle without a required interlock, his or her license will be suspended for an additional year. A second conviction will result in a five-year suspension.
The bill had strong bipartisan support, passing the House 132-13 and the Senate 29-5. While some have complained that the drivers affected by the new law would have a difficult time complying because of the cost, the fact remains that there is a simple way to avoid needing interlock or CAM devices: Don’t drink and drive.