ITD News
Associated Press
News Link

Minnesota lowers blood-alcohol limit to .08

By Kirsti Marohn
St. Cloud Times

ST. PAUL – The state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to lower the legal drunken-driving limit to .08 – but not until 2007.

Lawmakers voted 113-15 to approve the bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year. However, the Senate version would take effect this August, meaning a conference committee will have to try to find a compromise.

Currently, a person with a blood-alcohol level of .10 is considered legally intoxicated in Minnesota. If states don't adopt the lower limit by 2007, they lose federal transportation funds.

The bill's author, Rep. Steve Strachan, said it will save not only money, but lives.

"The .08 bill is about perception more than it's about practice," said Strachan, R-Farmington, before the House session. "It's about sending a message to the state of Minnesota – to drivers in the state of Minnesota – that .08 is drunk, it's impaired, and we need to start saving lives with this very important law change as soon as we can."

Rep. Ray Cox, R-Northfield, tried to amend the bill so it would take effect this year on Aug. 1, the same as the Senate bill. The original House bill also had the earlier date, but was changed during committee hearings.

The amendment failed on a 44-83 vote. Several St. Cloud-area lawmakers voted against it. Opponents said the lower limit will burden local cities and counties with the cost of enforcing the law, prosecuting violators and providing jail space.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza said the federal government is requiring states to adopt .08, but that doesn't mean the state should force the law upon local governments without providing funding.

"We should not do what the federal government is doing to us," said Entenza, DFL-St. Paul.

All St. Cloud-area legislators but one, Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, voted in favor of the lower limit. Heidgerken mentioned how one city in his district, Belgrade, decided not to prosecute a drunken driver because of a lack of funding.

"What do the small communities do to come up with these monies?" Heidgerken asked.

Rep. Joe Opatz, DFL-St. Cloud, has voted against .08 in the past. But the "hammer over our heads from the federal government" makes it difficult not to vote for it, he said.

Opatz voted for Cox's amendment to move up the date to 2004, saying if the state is going to adopt the lower limit, it might as well do it right away.

But Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, voted against the amendment, saying the delay will give cities and counties more time to get ready and the Legislature to provide local funding.

"We can't afford to lose those transportation dollars," Severson said. "At the same time, I hate having my hands tied behind my back as a state legislator."

Return to Transporter Main Page
The Transporter is updated on Fridays