DES MOINES (MCT) – The Iowa Senate voted 28-20 Monday to modify state drunken driving laws to allow first-time offenders the option of using an interlock ignition device that would enable them to keep driving to work and other places as long as they stayed sober behind the wheel.
Under Senate File 2299, people convicted of their first offense of operating while intoxicated (OWI) would still face 48 hours of mandatory jail time, but the fine could be reduce by half – from $1,250 to $625 — and a six-month driving suspension would be altered to require that a driver using the interlock option would have to be “lock-out” free for the last three months.
That would mean not recording a blood-alcohol content of .04 percent or above when blowing into the device for three consecutive times within 15 minutes.
Sen. Chris Brase, D-Muscatine, said the goal of the bill is to encourage people to use the interlock ignition devices so they can keep working and take steps to improve their behavior behind the wheel that are impeded by a six-month license suspension.
A provision of the measure would reduce the cost for the device for low-income OWI offenders.
Sen. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, one of three Republicans who voted for the bill, said he hoped the changes would not be viewed as weakening current law but rather helping to get people who made a mistake back on the right track and keep them going in the right direction.
However, after Tuesday’s floor debate, Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock issued a statement saying Republicans voted to uphold significant driving restrictions for people convicted of OWI offenses.
“Senate File 2299 makes it easier for people convicted of operating while intoxicated to get back on the road,” Dix said in a statement.
“Current law restricts where those found guilty of OWI can travel. Under Senate File 2299, with an ignition interlock device, someone sentenced to first offense OWI can drive wherever they like,” he added.
“It is imperative that we continue to explore ways to keep our roadways and all Iowans safe, not explore new opportunities to ease the penalties and fines for people convicted of such serious criminal behaviors.”
Three GOP senators – Breitbach, Nancy Boettger of Harlan and Brad Zaun of Urbandale – voted with 25 Democrats to pass the bill and send it to the Iowa House for consideration, while Democrat Matt McCoy of Des Moines joined 19 GOP senators in opposing the law.
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