Fiscal committee considers 0.08 DUI standard for Nevada |

Fiscal committee considers 0.08 DUI standard for Nevada

BEN KIECKHEFER, Associated Press

Despite complaints Monday about federal arm-twisting, a key state Assembly panel is expected to vote later this week to lower Nevada’s threshold for drunken driving.

At issue in the Ways and Means Committee is an act passed by Congress in 2000 that established a 0.08 blood-alcohol count as the national standard to determine driving under the influence of alcohol.

The federal government has warned that states must adopt the new standard or face the loss of some federal highway funds. Despite the warning Nevada has kept its 0.10 BAC — until now.

Assemblyman Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, told the committee that his AB7 marks his fourth attempt at lowering the level, and other lawmakers tried the same thing three times before him.

Earlier attempts to change the law failed mainly because of the influence of the casino and liquor lobby in this round-the-clock gambling state. That opposition had eased in recent years — but the proposal still died in Ways and Means in 1999 and again in 2001.

This time, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Morse Arberry said he expects Manendo’s AB7 to pass. Arberry, D-Las Vegas, added he plans to call for a vote on the bill later this week.

While Arberry predicted approval, some Ways and Means members complained about the threat to withhold funds.

“I really balk at the federal government shoving this down our throats,” said Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, echoed Hettrick’s sentiments, and also suggested amending the bill to say a 0.08 BAC isn’t a presumption of guilt in drunken driving cases.

However, proponents said that could still leave Nevada out of compliance with the federal mandate — a move that could cost the state more than $28 million by 2007.

Advocates also say the change will save lives and millions of dollars in medical care and emergency response costs. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates a 6 percent to 9 percent reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities from the reduction.

In pressuring states to adopt the 0.08 standard, the federal government said it would withhold 2 percent of the state’s highway funds next fiscal year if the level isn’t adopted. An additional 2 percent would be withheld each year until 2007 for failing to comply.

The Nevada Department of Corrections estimates only a few more people will be prosecuted annually if the state adopts the lower standard. The agency also estimated a fiscal impact of about $123,000 in future budgets.

AB7 passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee in March, but was sent to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for a review of its fiscal impact.