Drivers could have their Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks taken away for driving under the influence of alcohol, refusing to take a chemical breath test or driving without automobile insurance under bills introduced on Wednesday.
"It occurred to me that of all the problems we've had with drunk driving, the penalties haven't got to them the way they should do, and it seemed to me that one of the obvious ones on top of all the penalties that exist out there now is that they lose their dividend, ..." said Anchorage Sen. John Cowdery, author of the two measures.
Senate Bill 59 would bring a one-year suspension of PFD privileges for drinking and driving or refusing to take a chemical breath test, and a five-year suspension for a second offense. The same suspensions would apply for uninsured motorists under Senate Bill 58.
Dividend checks withheld for violating the proposed laws would be added to the total pot of money distributed to Alaskans.
Cowdery noted there were 1,146 alcohol-related accidents in Alaska in 2001.
Alaska State Trooper Capt. Chris Stockard said about 5,400 people were convicted of driving under the influence in Alaska last year. With dividend checks totaling $1,540.76 this year, the amount withheld for drinking and driving violations alone would have totaled about $8.3 million.
Information on how many people were convicted of driving without insurance was not available by the Empire's midday deadline.
Cowdery said the measures would act as a deterrent to crime, although he may not launch an educational campaign if the bills become law.
"They'll find out the hard way. I'm sure they'll know about it from this meeting today, hopefully," Cowdery said.
Cindy Cashen of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the group supports the drinking and driving bill and will work to get the message out to the public if it is passed.
"The MADD Alaska chapters applaud those who strive to stop drinking and driving," Cashen said, noting that creating stronger sanctions will work as a deterrent. "Anything that helps us stop drunk driving is something that we would look at in a positive way."
Cashen said the group also is working this session on bills for a graduated driver's license, keg registration and a uniform hour for bar closures.
Both measures are assigned to the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees. No companion measures have been introduced in the House.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.