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Lawmaker resigns leadership post after citation

 


MT lawmaker resigns leadership post after citation

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — State Sen. Jim Shockley resigned Thursday as Judiciary Committee chairman after he was cited for driving with an open beer in his vehicle, but said he will continue his run for state attorney general.

The Republican from Victor told The Associated Press he will not let the incident derail his plans to run for higher office in 2012. But, he added, he broke the law and it is not possible to continue running the Senate Judiciary Committee when its focus is cracking down on drunken driving.

"Considering the emphasis of this committee has been DUI — it wasn't a DUI but it was related — I think it appropriate I step down as chairman of this committee," said Shockley, a lawyer and retired Marine.

A great deal of attention is being placed on efforts to reform drinking-and-driving laws in Montana that many believe are far too lax. Several high-profile deaths in recent years have helped put a spotlight on the issue, and current Attorney General Steve Bullock has made it a top priority.

The incident didn't stop the committee, and its counterpart in the House, from continuing work Wednesday and Thursday looking over nearly 20 various proposals. Several were given quick approval Thursday and sent on for full House and Senate consideration.

Shockley, known as a bit of a maverick in his 11 years at the Legislature with friends on both sides of the aisle, has an interesting history with the state's open container law.

In 2003, the outspoken libertarian was the key figure in beating back an attempt to ban drivers from drinking a beer while they were driving — as long as the driver wasn't drunk. It was common for many to crack open a beer while driving home from work or a day of fishing.

That ban was eventually put in place amid a growing backlash to the state's pervasive drinking and driving culture, and Shockley eventually dropped his resistance to the ban. Getting caught with an open beer, however, results in a simple citation and fine — $51 in Shockley's case.

Missoula police said Shockley was pulled over in town Friday after an off-duty officer called in to report seeing him drink and drive on Interstate 90. Shockley says he was driving home from Helena when he stopped to buy a beer, his second.

Police said Shockley passed the field test for DUI. The state senator said he registered a .03 percent twice on a breathalyzer, a number Missoula police said they could not confirm.

Committee members told Shockley that he had done a great job as chairman, and that he was instrumental in helping shepherd DUI reform this far.

Sen. Anders Blewett of Great Falls, a Democrat, assured Shockley he has the support of his colleagues.

"I don't think anyone that is here is an angel," Blewett said. "I don't think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues."

Senate President Jim Peterson, attending the committee opening Thursday morning, told Shockley he was "doing the right thing for the right reasons."

"I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication," said Peterson. "I very much respect and appreciate your decision. It was a difficult decision I know, for you."

Sen. Larry Jent of Bozeman, a Democrat, told his colleague "you are doing a difficult but honorable thing."

After his announcement, Shockley presented four of his own bills to deal with DUI. Shockley's biggest proposal would make it easier for police to get a warrant at all hours to take a blood test from those who refuse a breathalyzer.

Shockley told the AP before the meeting started that he hopes the episode does not hurt his effort to advance the bills. The committee advanced his proposal to let game wardens issue tickets to minors caught drinking in the woods.

Shockley, 66, will serve as vice chairman of the committee. Republican Sen. Terry Murphy of Cardwell took over as chairman right after the announcement.

DUI proposals in front of the Legislature tackle the issue a variety of ways, including tougher penalties for those who are exceptionally drunk, more treatment options, additional monitoring of offenders and a tougher stance against minors who drink.

HELENA — State Sen. Jim Shockley resigned Thursday as Judiciary Committee chairman after he was cited for driving with an open beer in his vehicle, but said he will continue his run for state attorney general.

The Republican from Victor told The Associated Press he will not let the incident derail his plans to run for higher office in 2012. But, he added, he broke the law and it is not possible to continue running the Senate Judiciary Committee when its focus is cracking down on drunken driving.

'I think it appropriate I step down ...'

"Considering the emphasis of this committee has been DUI — it wasn't a DUI but it was related — I think it appropriate I step down as chairman of this committee," said Shockley, a lawyer and retired Marine.

A great deal of attention is being placed on efforts to reform drinking-and-driving laws in Montana that many believe are far too lax. Several high-profile deaths in recent years have helped put a spotlight on the issue, and current Attorney General Steve Bullock has made it a top priority.

Panel reviews 20 anti-DUI proposals

The incident didn't stop the committee, and its counterpart in the House, from continuing work Wednesday and Thursday looking over nearly 20 various proposals. Several were given quick approval Thursday and sent on for full House and Senate consideration.

Shockley, known as a bit of a maverick in his 11 years at the Legislature with friends on both sides of the aisle, has an interesting history with the state's open container law.

Libertarian opposed open container law

In 2003, the outspoken libertarian was the key figure in beating back an attempt to ban drivers from drinking a beer while they were driving — as long as the driver wasn't drunk. It was common for many to crack open a beer while driving home from work or a day of fishing.

That ban was eventually put in place amid a growing backlash to the state's pervasive drinking and driving culture, and Shockley eventually dropped his resistance to the ban. Getting caught with an open beer, however, results in a simple citation and fine — $51 in Shockley's case.

Missoula police said Shockley was pulled over in town Friday after an off-duty officer called in to report seeing him drink and drive on Interstate 90. Shockley says he was driving home from Helena when he stopped to buy a beer, his second.

Passed breathalyzer test

Police said Shockley passed the field test for DUI. The state senator said he registered a .03 percent twice on a breathalyzer, a number Missoula police said they could not confirm.

Committee members told Shockley that he had done a great job as chairman, and that he was instrumental in helping shepherd DUI reform this far.

Sen. Anders Blewett of Great Falls, a Democrat, assured Shockley he has the support of his colleagues.

"I don't think anyone that is here is an angel," Blewett said. "I don't think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues."

Colleagues support Shockley

Senate President Jim Peterson, attending the committee opening Thursday morning, told Shockley he was "doing the right thing for the right reasons."

"I want to thank you for your hard work and dedication," said Peterson. "I very much respect and appreciate your decision. It was a difficult decision I know, for you."

Sen. Larry Jent of Bozeman, a Democrat, told his colleague "you are doing a difficult but honorable thing."

After his announcement, Shockley presented four of his own bills to deal with DUI. Shockley's biggest proposal would make it easier for police to get a warrant at all hours to take a blood test from those who refuse a breathalyzer.

Shockley told the AP before the meeting started that he hopes the episode does not hurt his effort to advance the bills. The committee advanced his proposal to let game wardens issue tickets to minors caught drinking in the woods.

Shockley, 66, will serve as vice chairman of the committee. Republican Sen. Terry Murphy of Cardwell took over as chairman right after the announcement.

DUI proposals in front of the Legislature tackle the issue a variety of ways, including tougher penalties for those who are exceptionally drunk, more treatment options, additional monitoring of offenders and a tougher stance against minors who drink.

 

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