LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska motorists with a drunken-driving conviction could face a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony if they’re caught driving sober without a dashboard-mounted breath-testing device.
Lawmakers gave first-round approval Thursday to a bill that would reduce the penalty for a violation, as long as the driver hasn’t been drinking. Many people convicted of driving under the influence are allowed to use the ignition interlock devices as part of their sentence. The devices require drivers to blow into a sensor, and prevent vehicles from starting if a significant amount of alcohol is detected.
The measure is aimed at drivers in emergency situations, or who have to get to work in another vehicle when theirs won’t start. Supporters say the problem has surfaced in Omaha.
Violations would remain a felony for any drivers caught with a blood-alcohol concentration above .02.
“I think it’s far too harsh for someone to be driving, not drunk, (and face a felony) just because they don’t have an ignition interlock device in their vehicle,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber. “They could get two more DUIs and still not be a felon.”
Lawmakers expanded the use of ignition interlock devices with an overhaul of the state’s DUI laws in 2011, amid concerns that convicts were simply driving with suspended licenses. The law allows drivers with the devices to travel to work, school, treatment, probation, medical appointments and community service.
Drivers who tamper with the devices can face a felony charge. They can also face charges for going to unapproved destinations.
Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the measure strikes a balance between punishing offenders and giving consideration to special situations.
The bill advanced on 25-0 vote. Two additional votes are required before it’s sent to Gov. Dave Heineman.
The bill is LB998