Drunken-driving bill advances
RALEIGH – The state House unanimously approved a host of changes to North Carolina’s drunken-driving laws on Wednesday, with the intent of improving enforcement.
The 43-page bill, which now heads to the Senate, tracks many of the recommendations of a task force formed by Gov. Mike Easley. Many changes are designed to ensure that judges, prosecutors and law enforcement statewide follow the same streamlined procedures in handling cases.
"I hope we can take another step forward in combating the scourge of drunk driving in North Carolina," said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, the bill’s primary sponsor.
Most debate focused on a provision that would make clear that anyone under 21 years old found drinking alcohol is guilty of a misdemeanor. Currently the law applies to purchasing or possessing alcohol.
An amendment by Rep. Phil Haire, D-Jackson, would have removed the consumption provision. Mr. Haire said the change would needlessly cite young people who have made a mistake, even in situations where they are being driven home by someone sober.
Once a person turns 18, "you can do anything that an adult can do except for one thing, and that’s buy a beer," Mr. Haire said. "We’re going to say to these young people, ‘If you are caught consuming one beer then you’re a criminal’?"
Other House members disagreed with the amendment, saying the law essentially already bans alcohol consumption because drinking a beer can’t be done without possessing it. The extra language would affirm that, said Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell.
"People want us to be tough on underage drinking," he said before the amendment failed by a wide margin.
House members agreed to another amendment that would make any commercial driver guilty of driving while impaired if a police officer’s test reveals any alcohol in the person’s blood.
The current threshold for commercial drivers is a blood-alcohol content of 0.04 percent.
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