Driving under the influence continues to rise in North Dakota, and discussion is growing on how to handle the situation.
One state lawmaker, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, plans to introduce a bill when the 2013 Legislature begins that would toughen state laws against driving under the influence. Koppelman's bill would require jail time for first-time DUI convictions, boost fines and penalties for repeat offenders, require blood tests and participation in the 24/7 sobriety program.
Given the state's continuing problem with impaired drivers, we agree that the state's laws need to be strengthened. But Koppelman's bill raises all sorts of issues that would have to be dealt with should the bill be approved by legislators. We're not saying the issues are deal-breakers, but they are also real-life concerns that would have to be addressed.
Koppelman's bill would require a minimum four-day jail sentence for first-time DUI convictions, 10 days for a second offense, 60 days for a third offense and one year for fourth convictions and beyond. If the bill passes, how would the state's jails handle the dramatic increase in short-time prisoners, given that there were 6,600 DUI arrests in the state last year?
Would law enforcement agencies have to add staff or equipment to handle the increased usage of the 24/7 sobriety program, which requires participants to report twice a day to a law enforcement center and blow into a device to show they are sober?
How would the mandatory blood test be taken? Would the arrested individual be brought to the nearest hospital or clinic to have the blood sample drawn?
To be sure, the rising rates of driving under the influence in the state must be seriously debated among legislators. The state's current laws are too lenient, especially for repeat offenders. But debating the issue and passing a bill that actually toughens the state's laws are two different things, and we hope legislators can work together to do what's best for the state of North Dakota.