CHEYENNE -- A bill to force suspected drunken drivers to submit to a breath, blood or urine test for alcohol is headed to the House floor for debate.
House Bill 29, sponsored by Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, received endorsement by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday morning on a 5-4 vote.
Patterned after South Dakota's tough law, the bill would repeal Wyoming's 50-year-old implied consent law that allows suspected drunken drivers to refuse any tests for alcohol.
Gingery said the bill is targeted at repeat offenders with high blood-alcohol levels who know how to use the law to avoid punishment.
Gingery, a Teton County prosecutor, said only 25 percent of drivers arrested for drunken driving in his county refuse a Breathalyzer or other test for alcohol. But 75 percent of drivers arrested for a second or subsequent offense balk at any test.
Under the state's nearly 40-year-old implied consent law, suspected drunken drivers can refuse an alcohol test. In doing so, they avoid any criminal penalty but face suspension of their drivers' licenses.
The committee members had questions about how the forced blood draws would be handled when a driver is uncooperative.
Most alcohol concentration tests are by Breathalyzer, officials said.
"What makes you nervous about this bill is when you talk about blood, you cringe," Gingery told the committee before the vote.
Law enforcement agencies and their representatives were solidly in favor of the bill.
Casper Police Chief Tom Pagel said the city of Casper has spent thousands of dollars trying to curb the incidence of drunken driving through education and other campaigns. He said the tipsy taxi program cost $42,000 for 3,000 free rides home from bars or parties last year.
Last year the city arrested 650 drivers with blood-alcohol concentration levels of more than .15 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit of .08 percent. In Natrona County, the number was 1,200.
"We still have a problem," Pagel said. "You are dealing with an individual who has chosen to be irresponsible."
"It is time for us to take drunk driving seriously," he added.
Eric Phillips, Wyoming Traffic Safety Resources prosecutor who works with law enforcement, said there have been no challenges so far to South Dakota's law.
South Dakota, he said, has done away with implied consent.
The committee chairman, Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, questioned whether a similar Wyoming law could be abused by "rogue" police officers.
Supporters said there are remedies for abuse. They also said the blood draws are obtained by health care professionals in a medical setting.
Phillips said that while the bill allows for "forced blood draws," they were needed in fewer than 5 percent of the DUI arrests in South Dakota.
Robert Moxley, a Cheyenne attorney with 32 years of experience in criminal defense, opposed the bill.
"I think this is a Draconian solution to a nonexistent or minimum problem," he said.
A prosecutor who cannot get a conviction without an alcohol test is incompetent, he said.
Moxley also said he believes the bill is unconstitutional.
"The question is if government should subject people to battery," he said. "You can't make people blow into a breath system."
Voting in favor of the bill were Brown, Rep. Joe Barbuto, D-Rock Springs, Rep. Richard Cannady, R-Glenrock, Rep. Same Krone, R-Cody, and Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne. Voting against were Rep. Bob Brechtel, R-Casper, Rep. Matt Greene, R-Laramie, Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas.
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