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Montana lawmakers work on list of DUI bills


January 7, 2010

Montana lawmakers started work Tuesday on the finer points of many proposals to crack down on drunk driving amid growing concern over repeat offenders in the state. Some of the ideas include stripping driver's licenses from those under 18 caught drinking, allowing game wardens to issue tickets to minors caught drinking in the woods, and a slew of tougher laws and proposed expansions in treatment. Rep. Shannon Augare of Browning, chairman of the Law and Justice Interim Committee that is drafting proposed laws to take to the Legislature in early 2011, said that the committee is mindful that little extra money will be available for increased incarceration and program expansions. At torney General Steve Bullock is touting a pilot program in Lewis and Clark County to require repeat offenders to submit to twice-daily breath tests. It is expected to start in May. The program calls on judges to require the tests — paid for at the offender's own expense — for anyone released on bond after a second or subsequent DUI charge. Under the 24/7 Sobriety Program, borrowed from South Dakota, an offender who fails a breath test or does not show up for one, is jailed and the bond is revoked. That idea could be taken to the 2011 Legislature with a request for full deployment around the state. "The idea behind it is that people with addictive behaviors won't change unless all of the other alternatives are worse," he told the committee a day earlier. At the same time, Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath — who used to be attorney general — is helping with an effort to get an initiative on the ballot this fall that would divert $5 million in alcohol tax money to prevention and treatment efforts. The legislative interim committee is working with 11 proposals of its own that it is tweaking before taking a vote, perhaps this fall, on which measures to bring to the full Legislature. The list includes making it easier for police to get blood tests from suspects, more funding for DUI courts, stronger substance abuse treatment, stiffer sentencing guidelines, and more discretion for judges to order residential treatment. Currently in Montana, a court is not allowed to consider prior DUI convictions if they are older than five years when it is looking at a new misdemeanor DUI. A DUI is not a felony in the state until the fourth or subsequent offense — at which time the court can look back further than five years. One proposal would allow the court to look back at all DUIs, even for a subsequent misdemeanor offense. Augare said the panel will be seeking public comment on the legislative Web site. "It is extremely crucial that we get everybody's feedback," he said.


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