Kott takes juice out of alcohol bill

Sponsor says provisions too costly

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2001

Cindy Cashen went to a legislative hearing Thursday still grieving for her late father, Ladd Macaulay, killed by a drunken driver last year.

She went in support of a bill to toughen alcohol laws. She left the state Capitol disappointed.

The sponsor of a measure before the House Transportation Committee gutted key provisions of his own bill, saying they were too expensive and overly burdensome.

Rep. Pete Kott stripped a part that would have made a third drunken-driving conviction an automatic felony because it would have sent at least 800 new felons into the prison system, costing the state millions of dollars a year, he said.

The Eagle River Republican also deleted a section requiring the state to confiscate cars belonging to people convicted of a third drunken-driving charge. Kott said it would cost more to seize cars than they would bring at auction in some cases, and it would be difficult to enforce in rural areas.

Kott said he stripped a total of three provisions after seeing the price tag - $40 million a year.

"When I looked at the fiscal note I asked myself, $40 million for this piece of the puzzle - is this the best use of state dollars?" said Kott, a leading member of the budget-conscious House Republican majority.

The language left in the new version would require all drivers to show proof of insurance to register their cars. It also would require treatment for alcohol offenders "as much as possible" while they are incarcerated. The change did not go over well with the three members of the public who testified before the committee.

"I thought there was great promise here for doing something to have a positive effect on reducing fatalities on our highways by drunk driving," said Al Near of Fairbanks. "It doesn't look like that's going to be the case."

Cashen, of Juneau, made an emotional plea to the panel to adopt the original bill, calling it "part of the answer to Alaska's drunk-driving problem." When California and New York began seizing cars belonging to alcohol offenders, drunken driving fatalities dropped significantly, said Cashen, a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

She propped up several photographs showing the mangled wreckage of the car her father and Martin Richard of Juneau were in when a drunken driver killed them on the Seward Highway last year. The photos also showed a water bottle amid twisted metal and a sheet spotted with blood.

"Drunk driving can kill anyone," Cashen said, brandishing the photos one by one. "This could be anyone's car, or anyone's truck, or anyone's water bottle, or anyone's blood."

Afterward, Kott told the panel he was willing to push his original bill, if the committee supported it.

"I'm more than willing to ride the horse to the trough," said Kott, adding his bill is only one of several in play to crack down on drunken drivers.

Palmer Republican Rep. Scott Ogan said he thought the bill went from being too tough to too soft and suggested the committee find ways to make offenders pay the extra cost. The committee is expected to hear the bill again Tuesday.

Kathy Dye can be reached at kdye@juneauempire.com.

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