- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A proposal to change Arkansas’ driving while intoxicated law to prevent a loss of federal highway funding unexpectedly stalled before a legislative panel Tuesday, after lawmakers questioned whether the move went too far.

The proposal to make DWI an offense for which prosecutors don’t have to prove intent failed twice before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The change, prompted by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month that said state law required prosecutors to show intent in DWI cases, faced opposition from lawmakers who objected to that provision affecting cases involving drivers who have used controlled substances.

Some members of the committee said they worried it would remove a defense for drivers who have had a reaction to prescription drugs or were drugged without their knowledge.

“I just think a judge needs to hear all the facts on that,” said Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, who chairs the committee. Hutchinson proposed an amendment, which also failed before the panel, that would have made the change apply only to cases in which drivers have a blood alcohol content above .08 percent.

State highway officials have said the court’s ruling puts the state in jeopardy of losing more than $50 million in federal transportation funding that’s tied to state DWI laws. The law change was among several items on the agenda for a special legislative session that convened Tuesday.

Democratic Sen. David Johnson, who proposed the law change, said he planned to try again with the bill before the committee on Wednesday. He said he hoped to win support with testimony from highway officials, prosecutors and state police on why the change is needed.

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