State lawmakers took the fi rst steps Tuesday to create a category beyond extreme DUI that would trigger mandatory jail terms of at least 45 days for Arizona’s most intoxicated drivers.
The bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee would require the new penalty for drunken drivers with blood-alcohol concentrations of at least 0.20 — more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. A second conviction of someone that intoxicated would require six months in jail.
A second bill that cleared the committee on Tuesday would eliminate the ability of judges to reduce the sentence of somebody convicted of extreme DUI. These are people with a blood-alcohol concentration of at least 0.15.
Under the terms of Senate Bill 1026, those found guilty of extreme DUI would have to serve the full 30 days in jail.
Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, said the problem now is that in virtually all of these cases, judges end up imposing just a 10-day jail term.
“People talk about it as a joke,” he said. “Frankly, we’re trying to make it so it hurts.”
But Sen. Rebecca Rios, DDudleyville, pointed out that judges can reduce the sentence to 10 days only if the person completes court-ordered drug or alcohol treatment, screening or education programs. She questioned whether removing that option would cause fewer people to get the treatment they need.
Waring, however, said he’s not sure that those who drink that heavily can be helped.
“Either they’re going to realize the error of their ways, or they’re not,” he said.
Rios said statistics show that two-thirds of those convicted of extreme DUI never go on to re-offend. She said it might be preferable to craft a law aimed largely at the one-third who are repeat offenders.
Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, also questioned whether stiffer penalties would provide the deterrent Waring is seeking.
“It hasn’t worked with bank robbery. It hasn’t worked with illegal drugs,” he said.
The question of repeat offenders may be a bit different for those who get behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol content of 0.20 or above.
“A person who reaches the level of 0.20 has to be an experienced drinker,” said Phoenix police officer Jay Jacobs.
He said that means someone who has developed a tolerance for alcohol — and someone who likely has driven drunk before. Jacobs said it would take a 150-pound person eight drinks in a single hour to reach that level.
Gilbert Police Sgt. Pete Smith agreed that anyone that intoxicated would not just accidently drink too much.
“There’s no such thing as an ‘oops’ for a 0.20,” he said.
No one testified against either bill, though a lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns said approval of either bill would have financial implications for communities that would have to bear the additional costs of incarceration.
The bills would still need approval of the full Senate, House and governor before becoming law.