- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon courts could get more discretion in deciding which drunken drivers are required to use breath-alcohol-monitoring devices before getting behind the wheel.

A Senate committee voted Tuesday to make exceptions for drunken drivers with lower levels of alcohol in their blood, adding the provision to another measure regulating the alcohol-monitoring devices. Supporters said they’re trying to prioritize resources for higher-risk offenders, but some lawmakers are vowing to fight the change.

“Too many people are dying from drunk driving still,” said Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said he opposes the Senate changes to the bill.

The devices prevent drivers from starting their cars if they blow over a preset alcohol level. A 2012 law requires the alcohol-testing devices in cars used by drivers arrested on drunken driving charges who enter diversion programs to avoid convictions.

These programs include weekly classes and can lead to charges being dismissed after a year.

But the SenateJudiciary Committee said judges should be able to make exceptions to that requirement for offenders who have a low risk of repeat offenses. Legislators say that means people who enter the diversion program after being accused of drunken driving with a blood alcohol level that tested below 0.15 percent.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the chairman of the committee, said the changes are aligned with the state’s position of committing resources to higher-risk offenders.

But Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, who sponsored the original bill in the House, was unhappy with the Senate changes and said they would set the state back five years in its efforts to curb drunken driving.

A version of HB 4026 passed in the House earlier this month made no exceptions for the alcohol-testing device requirements and instead sought to clarify how device providers should distribute reports of failed tests, device tampering and unauthorized removals. It would have also ordered courts to have devices with video cameras installed in the cars of drivers suspected of getting around the tests, such as drunken parents who make their children blow into the device for them.

Besides creating the exception for low-risk offenders, the Senate version would also change how reports are distributed and would give judges discretion in whether to require the video-capable devices. It now goes to the full Senate and, if it passes, would go back to the House to have the changes accepted or rejected.

Thompson and Barker say they will ask the House to reject the changes.

That would send the measure to conference committee, where Barker says he’ll seek to remove or water down the changes. But Thompson said he’s not in a mood to compromise.


Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Chad Garland on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/chadgarland

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