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
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
"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
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."