ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's drunken driving penalties will get a closer look in the first full week of the 2001 legislative session.
House Crime Prevention Committee Chairman Rich Stanek and others are planning a full-steam effort again this year to push through legislation that would reduce Minnesota's blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving.
On Monday, Millie Webb, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, will visit the Capitol to help build support for lowering the threshold from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent.
"It's like Charlton Heston coming here for the NRA," said Stanek, who is also a Minneapolis police captain.
Webb lost her 4 1/2-year-old daughter and 19-month-old nephew and suffered a broken neck and burns over 75 percent of her body in an auto accident 28 years ago. That accident was caused by a driver whose blood-alcohol content was 0.08.
Minnesota is one of 31 states that define drunken driving as 0.10 percent blood alcohol content or do not set a specific standard.
Webb "sees that we're right on the brink" of lowering the limit to 0.08 percent, said Stanek, R-Maple Grove. According to MADD, a 137-pound woman would reach 0.08 percent after about three drinks in an hour.
The House and Senate both passed 0.08 percent bills last session, but they got hung up in conference committee.
President Clinton signed a bill in October setting a national 0.08 percent standard for drunken driving, saying the new legal limit would save 500 lives a year and force Americans to take more care when they drink.
The bill signing climaxed a fierce three-year battle in Congress.
States that refuse to impose the standard by 2004 will lose millions of dollars in federal highway construction money. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have a 0.08 percent limit.
"There will be some legislators saying we don't need to be in any hurry," Stanek said. "Some will say we don't need to change the law at all."
Rep. Matt Entenza thinks the law will pass this year, but not easily.
"It's always tough when the liquor lobby is fighting on the other side," said Entenza, DFL-St. Paul. "They have huge, huge financial resources."
Gov. Jesse Ventura has said he favors zero tolerance for drunken drivers, but believes the federal government shouldn't mandate a threshold.
According to the Department of Public Safety, 62 percent of Minnesota's 172 drinking-related fatal crashes in 1999 involved drivers with no previous alcohol convictions, 35 percent involved drivers with one to three prior drunken-driving convictions and only 3 percent involved drivers with four or more such convictions.
But those 3 percent cause a large number of problems, Stanek said.
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