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
With similar bills on the
legislative agenda across the country, citizens of other states may want
to follow Burnett's example.
-- END --
Issue #276, 2/28/03
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