Bill would toughen Missouri's drunken driving laws

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 | 7:56 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Drunken driving laws need to be more severe, a Republican representative said Wednesday.

An extensive bill sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, would increase the suspension period for drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 or higher.

An offender with no alcohol-related charges in the preceding five years would have his or her driver's license suspended for 90 days, followed by 275 days of restricted driving privileges. Current law stipulates a 30-day suspension and 60 days of restricted driving.

Repeat offenders and drivers refusing to submit to an alcohol or drug test would face steeper consequences.

Stevenson is also pushing for a more comprehensive, statewide DWI tracking system to punish repeat offenders.

The current DWI tracking system is flawed, Stevenson said. A few municipalities don't report offenses to the state, ultimately causing repeat offenders to be charged and sentenced as first-time offenders.

He said the bill would allow the governor to "withhold any state funds to a law enforcement agency or prosecuting or circuit attorney's office that fails to submit information."

"This is a very severe problem that certain municipalities are not reporting the information," Stevenson said. "We have to bring firm pressure to ensure that this information is reported."

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch agreed with Stevenson, saying, "If nothing else comes out of it but we get the recording system straightened out, that will get a lot of the issues resolved."

McCulloch, who spoke on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said there was a problem with both the "quantity and quality" of reports. He agreed that there should be "sanctions considered against those who don't comply."

McCulloch said he did not support any tracking system in particular, "as long as we have a place where that information is available."

Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis, questioned the motive behind a municipality that did not report. McCulloch attributed the failure to "laziness" and "incompetence."

"It is not that difficult to report," McCulloch said. "There's minimal information to get in."

The bill is before the House Crime Prevention Committee.

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