- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Lawmakers considered changes to Montana’s DUI laws on Wednesday, including doubling fines and giving offenders driving permits.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard House Bill 488 on Wednesday. The bill would double the minimum fines for driving under the influence and clarify that the same penalties apply to people driving high on marijuana.

Rep. Keith Regier’s bill would require anyone who refuses to submit to a breath, blood or urine test to pay a $300 fine. That money would pay for the state to process search warrants to draw blood and to test blood. “If a perpetrator does not want to pay for a blood draw, then blow,” Regier said.

The Kalispell Republican said his proposal would address Montana’s status as one of the least punitive states in terms of DUI repercussions. Regier and bill supporters said higher fines may deter people who habitually drive under the influence.

“As people are getting that second and third DUI, it’s not because they’re the most unlucky people in the world; it’s because they have a drinking problem,” Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion said, later adding, “Our hope is that we don’t have to see these people getting eighth, ninth, tenth DUIs.”

A separate proposal, Senate Bill 93, was heard Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee. Hamilton Republican Sen. Pat Connell’s measure would create limited driving permits for people whose licenses have been revoked, including those convicted of driving under the influence.

Five years after the suspension of their Montana driver’s license, people could petition their district court for a restricted-use driving permit. To be considered, applicants must have lived in Montana for the last five years and received no felony or misdemeanor convictions in that time. The measure would require the Department of Justice to define “essential driving purposes” for which the restricted-use permits could be utilized.

The committees took no immediate action on HB 488 or SB 93.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also heard testimony Wednesday on a proposal from Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, to tack a $1 fee onto vehicle registrations to pay for programs to prevent drunk driving. The bill was tabled by a vote of 8-4.

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