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Louisiana legislature passes .08 BAC.

Associated Press--The threat of millions of dollars in lost federal highway money persuaded the Louisiana House of Representatives to agree to drop the blood-alcohol level considered legal proof of intoxication in Louisiana. "Frankly, folks, they've got the atomic bomb on our road money," said Rep. Mike Futrell, R-Baton Rouge.

The bill would lower the blood-alcohol level in drunk driving cases from .10 percent to .08 percent, beginning in September 2003--right before the federal highway funds would be lost.

The House Criminal Justice Committee defeated a .08 bill from the Senate last month, but the full House agreed 78-19 Wednesday to amend the language onto a separate, Senate-approved bill. That bill would allow DWI charges against people who are under the influence of drugs--legal or otherwise--that can impair driving ability, if it was done intentionally.

The House approved the amended bill 88-14, sending it back to the Senate for debate on the .08 amendment. It is unlikely to run into trouble since the Senate already passed a .08 bill this session.

Opponents said the state shouldn't change the current law just to bow to federal pressure, saying no supporters have come forward with tangible statistics to prove lowering the blood alcohol level would save lives.

"If it was anybody besides the federal government that paid us to enact legislation, it probably would be illegal," said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.

The amendment is a feel-good measure that won't keep drunk drivers off the roads, said Rep. Troy Hebert, DJeanerette.

While committee testimony on the bill focused on saving lives, very few supporters of the amendment on the House floor discussed saving lives, focusing instead on the loss of dollars.

"Don't stop the money. That's what this is about," Futrell said.

The federal government has threatened to withhold highway funds from any states who refuse to adopt a .08 standard by 2004. The government would reduce the state's allotment of highway funds by $5 million in 2004 and increase that by another $5 million each year until it reaches $20 million.

"The authors of the amendment have made it as palatable as possible," Futrell said. "It goes into effect at the absolute last moment."

House Speaker Charlie DeWitt, D-Lecompte, said even the beer and liquor industry which had lobbied against the bill was willing to live with the bill if it included the delay until the federal deadline.

"I don't have a problem if the liquor industry themselves are in agreement," DeWitt said.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7LA
Date:Jun 25, 2001
Words:411
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