DUI law to get closer look

City officials say proposal needs more information

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

City officials are considering expanding the ordinance that prohibits driving under the influence, but the Juneau Assembly's Human Resources Committee decided Monday that it needs more information before acting.

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City Manager Rod Swope had recommended an amendment to the DUI ordinance at the March 5 Assembly meeting. The proposed change would criminalize driving when people are incapable due to depressants or stimulants.

The ordinance was sent to the Human Resources Committee after Assembly member Jonathan Anderson expressed concern regarding the language in the amendment.

Anderson spoke out again at the meeting Monday. He was concerned about having people arrested for driving under the influence of a drug that is not a controlled substance, one that may be in the blood stream but is not impairing the driver, he said.

"You need to be able to test someone somehow to see if they are impaired," Anderson said.

Assembly member Sara Chambers also expressed concerns about the wording of the proposed amendment. Having people take blood tests against their will after taking prescription drugs could be a problem, she said.

"I see those slippery slopes kind of occurring with this," Chambers said.

The city needs more information before amending the ordinance, she said.

"I just think this is vague and needs to be tightened up some how," Chambers said.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford told the Human Resources Committee Monday night that he is 100 percent behind anything that will make the streets safer. Sanford, who worked as a firefighter for 30 years, said he still thinks about the lives that have been lost and changed by drugs and alcohol when he drives by sites of old accidents.

"This affects me personally, very much," he said.

Driving is a privilege and not a right, and too many people are killed and maimed each year by careless drivers who abuse drugs and alcohol, Sanford said. Amending the current ordinance to include drugs that are not considered illegal or controlled could help keep the streets safe, he said.

"The officer should have the tools to take someone off the street," Sanford said.

National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence of Juneau Executive Director Matt Felix told the committee there is a wide spectrum of chemicals out there besides alcohol that can impair one's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. He said the ordinance would protect civil rights while at the same time protect the public.

"You have to have an ordinance that fits the situation," he said.

Anchorage already has a similar ordinance in place, as do many other communities, Felix said.

"In general, I would say a similar ordinance has been passed by most cities on the west coast," he said.

Felix also suggested to the committee that it add hallucinogens, a class of drug that was not considered in the ordinance, before it sends it back to the Assembly. The drugs to be included were not specified at the meeting but were described as stimulants and depressants.

When the human resources committee finishes deliberating, it will pass on a recommendation to the Assembly.

Sanford said the ordinance would make the streets of Juneau safer for the community.

"We need this legislation, and we need to get it done," Sanford said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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