DUI bill passes Assembly

Over the vocal protests of members who described it as federal extortion, the Assembly on Tuesday passed legislation lowering Nevada's DUI standard to 0.08 percent blood alcohol.

Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, has proposed 0.08 every session since his first in 1995. And every time, it has died with opponents arguing the lower limit would catch drivers who aren't actually impaired.

Manendo got some heavy-handed support a couple of years ago when Congress and President Clinton approved federal legislation mandating the 0.08 standard and threatening to take away highway fund money from states refusing to comply.

Manendo urged fellow Assembly members not to get stuck on that mandate and, instead, recognize that Assembly Bill 7 is "good legislation which will save lives." He said there is evidence a significant number of drivers with blood alcohol levels between 0.08 and the current standard of 0.10 have been involved in dangerous crashes.

John Carpenter, R-Elko, said drivers with alcohol levels of 0.2 or more are the real problem.

"We ought to be going after people who are the problem, not social drinkers," he said.

Don Gustavson, R-Sun Valley, a truck driver, said he has always supported 0.08, but opposes AB7 now because of the federal threat to take state highway fund money.

"The federal government is now asking us again, what is your price, what can your sovereignty be bought for," he said.

He said he would vote no because, "this is about money for freedom."

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, joined the opposition saying the issue "makes strange bedfellows."

"I don't believe 0.08 targets the problem drinkers," she said. "I think it begins to get into social drinkers and I don't think our intention should be to cast a net so wide."

She also admitted the highway fund threat bothers her.

"I am tired of being held hostage," she said. "This is the wrong way to approach it. We need to work with Congress and get them to reconsider and respect states' rights."

Assemblyman Ron Knecht, R-Carson City, made the same point and said he too doesn't believe 0.08 reaches the real problem.

But Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, said he believes "this is the right thing to do and not because the federal government is holding our feet to the fire."

And Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, urged the body to "err on the side of saving lives."

The final vote was 33-9 to send AB7 to the Senate.

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