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BAC battle landscape shifting in Missouri, as A-B steps aside.

Associated Press--One beer. That's all it takes to push an average-size man's blood-alcohol content from 0.08 percent to 0.10 percent. Yet that one beer is now worth millions of dollars to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

And that has caught the attention of Missouri lawmakers, who for the past five years have balked at bills to lower the state's legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers.

Now that the federal government has tied highway money to drunken driving laws, Missouri legislators appear more likely than ever to penalize drivers who take that extra drink.

The House already has passed legislation lowering the blood-alcohol limit. The Senate is still debating its version, but the discussion seems to have shifted from whether to change the law to how best to do it.

One indication of the new atmosphere is the revised, carefully stated position of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

In past sessions, the A-B lobbyist has opposed 0.08 percent legislation. But this year, Anheuser-Busch has gone to great lengths to explain that it opposes the idea of 0.08--but will not oppose any specific legislation. The maker of Budweiser beer says the change is due to the federal government's control over funding to states.

MoDOT stands to miss out on $3 million annually in federal highway funds if it does not adopt the 0.08 threshold.

And beginning in 2004, a new federal law will penalize states 2% of their highway money--about $8.1 million for Missouri--if they have not yet adopted a 0.08 percent law. The penalty rises to 8% by 2007.

"We empathize with states and the money they would lose," Mark Boranyak, Anheuser-Busch's vice president for state affairs, said in explaining the company's position.

Boranyak said he is unaware of any studies examining how much money, if any, Anheuser-Busch stands to lose because of tougher drunken driving laws. The company encourages responsible drinking, he notes.

Some legislators who have pushed for years for tougher drunken driving standards remain skeptical of Anheuser-Busch.

"If we didn't have Anheuser-Busch, I think Missouri probably would have had 0.08 quite a while ago," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, sponsor of the House legislation. "If they're true to their position now and they're not going to fight it, then that's great, but it remains to be seen."

Hosmer says the big brewery could use "surrogates"--the Beer Wholesalers Association and the Missouri Restaurant Association--to continue opposing the legislation.

Sen. Morris Westfall, who is sponsoring the Senate bill, is less skeptical of Anheuser-Busch's position.

"It's the action, I think, of some of my colleagues that is giving me the most problems," said Westfall, R-Halfway.

Through several days of debate, senators have questioned the legality of laws that almost automatically make one guilty based on a blood-alcohol test by a machine. Some, too, have tinkered with the effective date of the proposed 0.08 percent law.

Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, is pushing what some call a compromise--adopt the 0.08 percent standard, but provide a lesser penalty than for someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent or above.

Jacob proposes up to 15 days in jail and $300 in fines for first-time offenders registering between 0.08 percent and 0.099 percent. First-time offenders at 0.10% or greater would face up to six months in jail and $500 in fines.

Westfall, while willing to make modest changes to the 0.08 percent legislation, wants to avoid any alterations that could become new grounds for opposition. After all, it's tough from a public relations standpoint to oppose a straightforward 0.08 percent bill. And it's even tougher when the state stands to lose highway money.

Anheuser-Busch is one example. House members, who passed the 0.08 legislation by a 130-16 vote, provide another example. State senators, known for their lengthy debates, may eventually go along with the 0.08 percent standard.

"It's something we need to do for safety. We've got the added financial bone, so let's do it," Westfall said.
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Title Annotation:Anheuser-Busch's position on lower blood alcohol content level
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 26, 2001
Words:670
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