Arizona DUI Bill Amendment Divides Senate
By: Mike Stetzer
The amendment of a proposed Arizona DUI bill mandating that extreme first-time offenders spend 30 days in jail to allow defendants to avoid jail time by going to rehab has sparked much political debate in the state and caused the original drafter of the bill to threaten to kill it.
Republican Senator Jim Warring of Phoenix had introduced an Arizona DUI bill which would make it mandatory for extreme DUI offenders-those with a blood alcohol content level between 0.15 and 0.20-to spend 30 days in jail. Warring's bill would have struck a current Arizona DUI law allowing judges to reduce that time period to 10 days.
Much to Warring's dismay, Arizona Democrat Jorge Luis Garcia of Tucson proposed an amendment to the bill giving extreme DUI offenders the choice of going to jail or a rehab center. That amendment passed by a narrow margin.
In an Arizona Capitol Times story, Garcia said that he did not think that all first-time drunk drivers belong in jail and that sending a person to jail doesn't necessarily do any good. He added that the state has increased its DUI penalties over the last couple of years and people are still drinking and driving, so offering rehab may be a better option to help them correct their problem.
Warring said he would rather kill the bill than have it be passed into a watered-down Arizona DUI law. Warring was also described in the story as accusing Garcia of "siding with rehab centers and alcoholics." He reportedly argued that Garcia's amendment creates a system of preferential treatment in that it allows people who can afford the expensive costs of rehab centers to get off the hook of jail time.
Garcia admitted in the Arizona Capitol Times story that he initially struggled with the argument that his amended bill would allow those with the financial means to go to rehab instead of jail, but then said that it is a better "societal objective" to allow people the option of treating a problem rather than just punishing them. He added that going to rehab for 30 days is no easy task for people trying to overcome alcoholism.
Warring also challenged Garcia's amendment to his Arizona DUI bill by saying that it makes no sense in relation to its current terms. Warring publicly wondered how a bill mandating that a person convicted of drunk driving with a BAC of at least 0.08 spend a day in jail would then allow a person with an extreme BAC the opportunity to avoid jail.
Warring was not alone in his disgust with the amended bill. Families of loved ones killed by drunk drivers were quoted in the Arizona Capitol Times story as urging Garcia to withdraw the amendment. One mother who lost her daughter in a drunken driving accident involving a man with four prior convictions said that Garcia's amendment would not make the state's roads any safer. A friend of that deceased girl added that by withdrawing the amendment, Garcia could potentially save the lives of himself, loved ones and constituents.
Garcia's amendment passed by a 12-to-11 vote, with all those in favor coming from Democrats. Warring now has the option of killing the bill with a strike everything amendment or amending it on another bill or when it reaches the House. He wondered in the Arizona Capitol Times story why partisanship would take precedence over cracking down on Arizona DUI. Whether partisanship was the reason behind the amendment is up for debate, but it can be agreed that the new Arizona DUI bill has caused much anger.
Ultimately, this whole situation teaches an important lesson about DUI legislation. While most everyone would agree that driving under the influence needs to be enforced with much seriousness and attention, people have different ideas about what penalties for specific situations are best. This point is proven by the specific differences in the DUI laws of all 50 states.
Walking the fine line between appropriate DUI penalties and efforts to get offenders to never do it again can be a difficult task, as this controversy in Arizona demonstrates.