(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana Legislators want to catch DUI offenders early and hit them hard.
DUI is one of the major issues before the 2011 Montana Legislature this session. State Representative Kris Hansen, R-Havre, is sponsoring a bill that would make a third DUI conviction a felony. She says the idea is to force people into detox earlier.
"People who get a 3rd DUI obviously have an alcohol problem," Hansen says. "If you let them go to 4th you're taking a risk that they've committed several more DUI offenses which they did not get caught. They are putting people at risk."
Currently, if someone commits a 4th of subsequent DUI offense they may be sentenced to the Warm Springs Addictions Treatment and Change program, or WATCh.
Under House Bill 299, offenders instead would be allowed to stay in their home communities, but they would have to submit to mandatory supervision and alcohol testing and monitoring.
Hansen says she was told not to introduce this bill because it’s too expensive.
Under House Bill 299, offenders would be supervised by the Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole offices. The initial cost estimate, says Hansen, was $4.5 million dollars. That has since been cut in half, but Hansen still disputes that figure.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ken Peterson, R-Billings, voted against the bill in his committee, but he’s now in favor of the measure. He says it’s a primary responsibility to get chronically impaired drivers off the road.
“If we can help them also that’s fine,” says Peterson. “This is the best bill I’ve seen come along this term that’s going to slap them alongside the head and get their attention. They know that when they get a 3rd DUI it’s a felony.”
But it’s not tough enough for state Representative Alan Hale, R-Basin. He says that’s why he’s against the measure.
“I would say we need to maybe look in a different direction,” he says. “I have a suggestion that maybe we should just build a gallows down here and if they get a 3rd offense we just take ‘em down and put the gallows to work and maybe that would cure the problem.”
The Montana House gave preliminary approval to the bill.