Newsbrief: Utah Drugged Driving Bill is DOA in House 2/28/03

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A little opposition can go a long way. At least that's the lesson that can be learned from Utah, where a bill that would make drivers involved in fatal accidents guilty of vehicular homicide if they had even trace amount of illicit drug in their systems went down in flames in the Utah House after sailing through the Senate last month. SB007, the "Automobile Homicide Amendments," introduced by Sen. Carlene Walker (R-Halliday), would have allowed prosecutors to declare drugged drivers impaired without actually showing any evidence of impairment -- merely the presence of metabolites from a drug.

As with similar bills being considered at state houses across the country, SB007 is the outgrowth of drug czar John Walters' national "zero tolerance" anti-drugged driving campaign announced in November (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/264.html#druggeddriving).

But while the bill sailed through the state Senate, according to the Salt Lake City Weekly, the efforts of three men helped kill it in the House. Mark Moffat, president of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke out against the bill, calling it a "dangerous piece of legislation" likely prompted by a "particular case where there was someone who was loaded and somebody died but they couldn't prove he was impaired."

State Rep. LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) also played a key role, according to the City Weekly. He raised serious questions about the constitutionality of the bill, especially when it relied on a blood test to prove impairment when science did not support such a finding.

And common man Stan Burnett, who objected to the bill's provisions that would allow someone who use marijuana days or weeks earlier to be charged with drugged driving, wrote letters to the editor and contacted representatives to line up votes against the bill. It worked. "I have had a great time," Burnett told the City Weekly. "But I've been nervous. I've really been kind of obsessed about this. I'm just amazed by how accessible the process is. I've been really pleased, because as a citizen, you can engage the process."

With similar bills on the legislative agenda across the country, citizens of other states may want to follow Burnett's example.

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