Over the objections of Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who said his Republican colleagues should be against federal interference in state affairs, the Senate Thursday passed a bill lowering the blood-alcohol level where a driver is considered legally drunk to 0.08 percent.
AB7 passed 19-2 with only Neal and Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, opposed.
Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, told the body Nevada will begin losing federally controlled highway fund money next year unless it reduces the level from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. Amodei said the state, with its huge road construction needs, can't afford to lose the money.
The federal law will dock the state $2.8 million in 2004, $5.7 million in 2005, $8.5 million in 2006 and $11.4 million in 2007 -- a total of $28.4 million over the next four years -- unless it approves the lower limit.
Neal said he objects to the federal mandate because "it interferes with the domestic affairs of the state."
"I'm kind of wondering what happened to the conservative members of the Senate in even allowing this bill to get this far," Neal said.
He said those conservatives are the people who are supposed to protest federal interference in matters traditionally left to the states, not support interference.
Similar objections were raised in the Assembly where 9 of 42 members opposed AB7. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said she was tired of being, in effect, blackmailed by the federal government.
But AB7's prime sponsor, Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, said the bill should be passed even if members don't like the federal pressure because it is good legislation that will save lives on Nevada's highways.
With a majority of both houses agreed, the bill is on its way to Gov. Kenny Guinn's desk. If signed, the new lower limit will go into effect Sept. 23.