- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - He’s seen for himself how it works, offered to explain why it would be useful in Iowa and tried to get state legislators to approve it for statewide use.

But as another legislative session winds down with only a limited chance of action on a proposal to keep alcohol offenders out of jail with twice-daily sobriety testing, Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew is discouraged, the Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1EUzsYi ) reported.

“This should be a bipartisan issue,” Drew said, lamenting the Legislature’s failure to move ahead with the so-called 24/7 sobriety program this session.

The program, in wide use in South Dakota, allows people convicted of alcohol-related offenses to continue living with their families and going to work instead of being locked up.

Drew since early 2013 has been lobbying to create a sobriety program that would allow such offenders in Iowa to stay out of jail if they took — and passed — Breathalyzer tests twice a day. He saw the program in use in Sioux Falls and came away impressed.

Participants pay for the tests, which are administered by Sheriff’s Office staff for a length of time determined by a judge.

“We look at this as a good opportunity as a (jail) diversion program. You are putting the onus on that person. If you like your freedom, you will live a drug-free life,” Drew said.

About two-thirds of Woodbury County Jail inmates have problems with alcohol and drugs. The jail has faced issues with overcrowding and staffing.

Drew said the 24/7 program could save tens of thousands of dollars in operating expenses if fewer people were incarcerated. The county supervisors have indicated support for the initiative in recent years.

In 2014, state Rep. Dave Dawson, D-Sioux City, introduced legislation into the $544 million justice system budget bill specifying that testing would meet the standard of probation. The language was struck.

Dawson tried again in January, introducing a bill with Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, to enable the testing to begin throughout Iowa so people could avoid jail.

“It encourages people to stop using and get treatment,” Dawson said.

However, a deadline to take action on the measure passed, and the bill died. Dawson said the concept hasn’t encountered resistance but the bill stalled after majority party Republicans questioned whether there would be some cost to the state to get started.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said one employee would be needed to monitor the program statewide, and the cost for that salary became a sticking point, Dawson said.

Now, the Legislature is debating only bills that involve budget issues, so the only way the initiative could advance would be if it were attached to a budget-related bill.

In South Dakota, 36,383 residents have taken part in that state’s 24/7 Sobriety Program from 2005 through February, and 99.2 percent were clean, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. About 4,000 people were tested statewide last year.

Dawson said he was sold on the program’s effectiveness after seeing South Dakota statistics that showed a drop in the number of second-offense drunken driving and domestic violence arrests by people who did testing.

Nearly all South Dakota counties have the testing. In Union County, Jail Administrator Sara Hight said there have been about a dozen people being tested monthly over the past year, with a high of 15 in August. Hight likes how the program works out of the county administration building at Elk Point.

Hight said people who use the Preliminary Breath Testing method have to be tested twice daily, 12 hours apart. A few opt for urinalysis instead or wear an ankle bracelet that through skin contact can detect alcohol consumption. All are accurate tests, she said.

The program also is in place as a pilot program in Plymouth County, where a few people have been tested over the past 30 months. They pay $2 per test.

Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo said those using the tests in Plymouth County have done so in hopes of getting a more favorable plea agreement and reduced sentence.

So far, judges haven’t granted that, as county officials continue to discuss how to fully implement the program. Van Otterloo said judges would be more likely to consider lesser sentences if the Legislature approved the program for statewide use.

“I haven’t given up hope that we’ll get that. I’m on board with (Drew). Without a doubt, it is a great program,” Van Otterloo said.

___

Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com


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