Category Archives: alcohol

Feds OK revised TN DUI law for juveniles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Highway Traffic Administration has confirmed that Tennessee is back in compliance with federal zero-tolerance standards for drunken drivers under the legal drinking age.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called a special legislative session last week to repeal a new state law that threatened to cost the state 8 percent, or $60 million, in federal road money.

The repeal of the law means that the state no longer stands to lose the money starting on Oct. 1.

Sponsors of the original legislation said it aimed to give tougher penalties to all drivers over age 18. But the law also sought to set the maximum allowable blood alcohol content at 0.08 percent for those drivers. The federal standard for drivers under age 21 is 0.02 percent.

Legislators repeal DUI foul-up to save federal funding

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday repealed an underage drunken driving law that threatened to cost the state $60 million in road money by running afoul of federal zero-tolerance standards.

The Senate passed the measure 31-1, and the House later followed suit on an 85-2 vote despite several complaints among Republican lawmakers about the federal government interfering in state business.

“Our own federal government is blackmailing us,” said Republican Rep. David Alexander of Winchester. Continue reading

DUI special session deemed a ‘step backward’

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is looking to turn back the clock on an underage drunken driving law that threatened to cost Tennessee $60 million in federal road money.

The law that went into effect in July raised the penalties for driving under the influence by 18- through 20-year-olds. But the change ran afoul of federal zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers by raising the maximum allowable blood alcohol content from 0.02 percent to 0.08 percent.

According to an advance version of legislation the Haslam administration plans to file during a special session that starts next week, the state would eliminate nearly all of the provisions of the new law, returning the 0.02 percent rule and the more lenient penalties for all drivers beneath the legal drinking age.

“From a public policy standpoint, this is obviously a step backward,” said Republican Rep. William Lamberth of Gallatin, the lead sponsor of the original legislation. “But it is a step that will put us in compliance with federal regulation and ensure that that $60 million comes to Tennessee.” Continue reading

Haslam calls Sept. 12 special session on DUI foulup

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he will call an “extraordinary session” of the 109th General Assembly to consider legislation preventing the loss of $60 million in federal highway funds after the U.S. Department of Transportation deemed the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

“We are disappointed in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision. The state made clear to federal officials that while it disagrees with the interpretation that Tennessee is out of compliance, any such perceived impact of the law was inadvertent and could be fixed in January 2017,” Haslam said. “To avoid any negative impact to the state, I will ask the General Assembly to convene in a special session and clarify state law in this matter.”

Last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notified the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) that 2016 Tennessee Public Chapter No. 1030, which passed overwhelmingly during the 2016 legislative session, signed by the governor, and actually strengthened penalties for DUI offenders aged 18 to 20, puts the state out of compliance with a federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute that conditions certain federal highway funding on compliance with its provisions.

The NHTSA indicated Tennessee would permanently lose $60 million if it remained out of compliance as of October 1. In separate letters to NHTSA, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery agreed that Tennessee continues to meet the requirements of federal “zero tolerance” drunk driving statute.

All 11 members of the bipartisan Tennessee congressional delegation urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx to work with Haslam and state officials to find a solution. To avoid a special session of the General Assembly, the state told federal officials it would take up a remedy in January 2017, but the state was notified today it needs to be in compliance by October 1 or face the loss of these federal highway funds.

Haslam will issue an official proclamation calling for a special session in September in the coming days to clarify Tennessee Code to remove any question of compliance with the federal requirements relating to federal-aid highway apportionment.

UPDATE/Note: Subsequent to the press release, Haslam issued a proclamation declaring the special session will begin Sept. 12. Copy of Haslam’s letter to legislators is available by clicking on this link: Extraordinary Session Proclamation. The proclamation itself is HERE.

Further, from The Tennessean:
Haslam said discussion over whether to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham would not be part of the call for a special session.

“We’re meeting because this issue has come up and we need to address this,” Haslam said.

When pressed on the decision to not include Durham’s expulsion in the special session call, Haslam said, “That’s not our role.”

Haslam said if members of the legislature wanted to add Durham to the call, he would not get in the way. “If they want to do that, that’s their decision,” he said.

Haslam said the length of the session is unknown but any legislation would need three readings. When lawmakers introduce bills they typically allow one day for each reading. “We’re looking to see if there’s any flexibility,” he said.

Haslam: Special DUI session may be necessary to save $60M fed funding

Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t want to call a special September session of the legislature to fix the state’s drunk driving laws, but the possibility of losing $60 million if Tennessee doesn’t might just force him to do so.
Further from WPLN:

The problem is the state’s limit for blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-olds. Federal highway authorities say it has to be .02, but Tennessee lawmakers raised it to .08 earlier this year.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told state officials last week that it will dock Tennessee’s highway funds if the state doesn’t bring the limit back down by Oct. 1. Haslam says the warning has his attention.

“One way or another, we’ve got to figure out a way to not do that. I mean, $60 million is a lot of money.”

State lawmakers say they didn’t know about the federal government’s policy when they raised the blood alcohol limit for young adults. They were actually trying to toughen the penalties for underage DUIs by adding jail time.

Haslam hopes to convince federal authorities to hold off until lawmakers reconvene in January. He says Tennessee’s infrastructure needs are too big to punish the state for an oversight, but he would go along with a special session if that’s what it takes to keep the money.

Haslam was also asked by reporters Wednesday whether a special session, if one were called, could include a debate over expelling state Rep. Jeremy Durham… Durham lost in the primary earlier this month but remains in line to receive a state pension if allowed to serve out his term.

The governor said he favors limiting the scope to transportation funding, but no decision has been made about whether to include discussion about Durham. Continue reading

Special session to avoid $60M fed funding loss?

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee officials are scrambling to avoid losing $60 million in federal road funding because of a new state law that runs afoul of zero-tolerance standards for underage drivers who have been drinking.

Officials with the state Transportation Department in a teleconference Monday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to hold off on a formal decision to cut the state’s road funding by 8 percent until after reviewing arguments that another state law should keep Tennessee in compliance.

The federal agency said it would rule on the state’s claim by the end of the week, TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty said.

Federal guidelines require a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law raises that limit to 0.08 for 18- to 20-year-olds but also metes out the stronger penalties for offenders. Continue reading

Fed funding at risk under new DUI law for juveniles

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper on Friday criticized Tennessee Republicans for changes to the state’s underage drunken driving law that could lead to a loss of $60 million in federal highway funding.

Under the new law, which took effect on July 1, the allowable blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-old drivers was raised to 0.08 percent, but offenders now face the same level penalties as adult drivers convicted of drunken driving.

Federal guidelines suggest a strict 0.02 percent allowable blood alcohol content for drivers under the legal drinking age. The new Tennessee law splits this group into two: 16- and 17-year-olds are still subject to the 0.02 limit, while those 18-20 now have a higher allowable limit, but with the tougher punishments.

Cooper said the change runs afoul of federal standards for underage drivers, meaning that the state could stand to lose 8 percent of its federal highway funding, or $60 million per year.

“This must be a mistake,” Cooper said. “No one wants more drunk drivers on the road. State leaders should act immediately and comply with a zero tolerance policy.” Continue reading

Cohen bill calls for reporting all DUI arrests to NCIC

News release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) today introduced the bipartisan DUI Reporting Act of 2016. This bill would close a reporting loophole that inadvertently enables repeat DUI offenders to be tried more leniently as first time offenders. The DUI Reporting Act would require, as a condition of full Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funding, that DUI arrests are reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the national crime database that is made instantly available to police right from their patrol cars, so repeat offenders can be charged appropriately.

“It is shameful that all DUI arrests are not reported to the national crime database,” said Congressman Cohen. “The consequences of this lack of reporting can prove life-threatening. Last year there was a tragic accident just outside of Memphis. Two teenage girls on their way to a vacation were killed around 6:30 a.m. when the car in which they were being driven was struck by a drunk driver who had accrued seven DUI charges since 2008 but had been allowed to plead guilty five times to a first-offense DUI. This story broke my heart, and I believe the hearts of everyone in the Mid-South. Police need access to this information to get drunk drivers off the road, and repeat offenders need to be charged appropriately.”
Continue reading

Approved bill makes penalties higher for repeat DUI, lower for drug possession

 

A bill increasing penalties for repeat DUI offenders while reducing the penalties for simple drug possession has won final legislative approval with a 32-0 vote Monday in the state Senate.

Further from The Tennessean:

The measure (HB1478)… would would make three or more convictions for simple possession of any drug — including marijuana and cocaine — a misdemeanor. Simple possession is when someone has an illegal substance for personal use and doesn’t plan on delivering or selling it.

The bill also would make it a Class C felony for anyone convicted of six or more DUIs and carjackings. Currently, those convicted of four or more DUIs are punished with a Class E felony.

The measure hit a brief roadblock in the House last month as Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, fielded questions about the bill, as well as attempts to amend it that would have significantly changed the legislation. Lamberth delayed a vote on the bill for two weeks before it was taken up again and ultimately approved with an 80-7 vote on Thursday.

 

House votes higher penalties for DUI, lower for drug possession

From WPLN:
The Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a plan to lower the legal penalties for repeated drug possession and raise them for driving drunk six times or more.

Lawmakers voted 80-7 Thursday to approve House Bill 1478. The proposal was put forward by Sumner County Republican William Lamberth, a former prosecutor.

He says it’ll make sure people with numerous DUIs spend more time behind bars.

“And it allows for some mercy (for) those folks that are addicts that unfortunately get caught the third time with simple possession of drugs,” Lamberth says.

The plan would turn drug possession into a misdemeanor. That means users — even those convicted three times or more — would receive less than a year in jail.

Meanwhile, people with six DUIs could get up to 15 years in prison. The measure also forces people convicted of carjacking to serve more time.

The state Senate could vote on the proposal next week.

Further from The Tennessean:
The legislation stalled when it was discussed on the House floor on March 17, after Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, attempted to amend the bill to exclude harder drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine, from the changes to multiple convictions of simple possession. Stewart also tried to gut the bill and insert an amendment that would have made marijuana possession a misdemeanor.

Although both efforts from Stewart failed, the bill generated enough conversation and questions among House members that Lamberth delayed action on the legislation.

On Thursday the bill generated no discussion or debate before the chamber voted on it.