JEFFERSON CITY — State leaders began this year's legislative session with a pledge to strengthen the state's driving while intoxicated laws, and with just more than a month left until the end of the session, the Missouri House has one vote left to send its reform bill to the Senate.
On Wednesday, representatives agreed upon an amended reform bill that would require DWI offenders to participate in drug court, increase penalties for offenders who refuse to submit to a blood test and require municipal courts to turn repeat offenders over to state courts. Representatives approved all nine proposed amendments to the measure late Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, proposed an amendment that would lessen penalties for first-time offenders. The proposal would give first-time DWI offenders a minimum of two years of probation. He said young offenders who are "inexperienced" could lose future opportunities because of the proposed penalties for first-time offenders.
"You're putting them in a bad box that could affect them for the rest of their lives," Colona said.
Rep. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, proposed an amendment to the bill that eliminates a provision that would have required blood tests for DWI offenders to be conducted by authorized medical personnel strictly in a hospital.
House Minority Whip Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, opposed the amendment, and said the amendment could require blood to be collected outside of a hospital, which means emergency medical personnel could have to collect the sample.
But Stevenson said in rural counties, where a hospital might not be close to the site of a DWI arrest, the measure would allow police to collect blood for evidence more quickly.
State leaders were pressured to reform DWI laws after an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch released late last year exposed inconsistencies in DWI enforcement in the St. Louis area. The investigation prompted Gov. Jay Nixon to form a task force to determine how state laws should change.
In a statement released after the approval of the amended bill, Nixon said he "appreciated the leadership" of bill sponsor Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, in moving the bill forward. He said the advancement of the bill was an "important first step" in DWI reform.