The House GOP Review is a weekly feature that gives Tennesseans an in-depth look at what our Republican state legislators have been working on this week, and a glimpse into what’s planned for the coming week at our state house.
A commonsense DUI measure appeared again this week before a House subcommittee after questions and concerns were raised two weeks ago. The “Pass the Bottle” legislation, which would ban open containers in vehicles, was one of several DUI bills rolled out by Republicans as a comprehensive effort to combat drunk driving. Currently, no driver may consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of such while operating a motor vehicle, but passengers may consume alcohol. The bill sponsor, in his opening remarks, said this policy invites drivers to drink as long as there is a passenger to which they can “pass the bottle.”The bill experienced some resistance in subcommittee last week, when members expressed concern over the ability of sober drivers to take friends home who are drinking, and also regarding sporting events, such as University of Tennessee football games. The same questions and concerns were raised this week, delaying the legislation once again.
In 2006, there were 1,287 fatalities on Tennessee roads with 509 due to alcohol-related crashes, a 7.6 percent increase from the previous year. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among persons between the ages of 3 and 33, with 50% of the victims being in alcohol-related crashes. In addition, fifty-two percent of drivers that were involved in alcohol-related fatalities had BAC levels at or above .16.
Republicans argued that in addition to saving lives, the law would produce only positive revenue for the state, and would also allow $13 million in federal funds to be used for projects such as roads—currently, the money has very specified uses, restricting the state’s ability to use it as efficiently as possible. They also pointed out that 40 states have adopted such a measure, with several more considering it this year.
Tennessee has only five of the eleven elements proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who have designed model legislation for a comprehensive approach to lowering the incidence of DUI in states. In addition to lowering the level for extreme drunk driving, NTSB also urges adoption of legislation to enhance vehicle impoundment, zero tolerance or lowering blood alcohol levels for repeat offenders, and enactment of an automatic license revocation program (ALR). The NTSB claims ALR is a major factor proven to reduce alcohol-related car crashes. Without ALR, the offender can get back on the road as soon as they are sober enough to drive.
Finally, the NTSB urged passage of a more uniform and mandatory system for installation of interlock devices to immobilize the vehicle of a drunk driver upon detection of alcohol in their body. Interlock devices are small pieces of equipment attached to the steering wheel of a car with a tube that the driver must breathe into in order to allow the ignition to start. Republicans are focused on passing many of these DUI laws this year in their comprehensive package, bringing Tennessee up to speed with the majority of states in the nation.
Flag bill nearly scuttled in committee
House Bill 3155 was nearly scuttled in the State and Local Committee this week, over concerns by the Bredesen Administration. The Republican bill would require the governor to proclaim a day of mourning and to fly the state flag at half-staff over the state Capitol whenever a Tennessee member of the armed services is killed in action or dies from combat-related wounds, after which the flag would be delivered to the deceased member’s family. The administration argued that the law should only apply to local government buildings, noting that the flags at the Capitol are lowered for occasions and not individuals.
The Republican sponsor said the measure was not controversial, but simply a way to honor Tennessee’s brave men and women who give their life for our country. With the concerns unresolved, the bill was deferred until next week.
- A bill that will change the spring sales tax holiday has passed the full House. The bill will move the spring sales tax holiday from March 21-March 23 to April 25- April 27, so that the holiday will not fall on Easter. The Senate has already approved the measure, and the Governor is expected to sign it soon.
- House Bill 3943 passed Education Committee this week, and will next be heard in Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill, if passed, would allow teachers to take leave without penalty to visit a spouse, child, or parent deployed for military duty.
- A House Joint Resolution that urges the Governor to establish a goal of reducing fuel consumption by at least 15 percent in the state’s vehicle fleet by 2010 passed the State and Local Government Committee this week. The Republican sponsor pointed toward the recent trend to more environmentally friendly vehicles, believing that the state should set an example. The bill is expected to reach the House floor soon.
- In the same vein, House Bill 2794 would add alternative fuel and hybrid-electric motor vehicles to the present list of vehicles authorized to drive in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. The bill passed out of the Public Transportation subcommittee, and will next face the full Transportation Committee.
The week ahead…
- House Bill 2511 prohibits investigative or enforcement actions of violations of environmental laws based solely on information submitted by an anonymous source (Environment)
- House Bill 2633 replaces authorization for the Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance to regulate boxing, kickboxing, and mixed martial arts with a new athletic commission (Commerce)
- House Bill 3991 creates new Class E and D felony offenses of assault on law enforcement officer; and Class B felony offense of aggravated assault on law enforcement officer (Judiciary)
- House Bill 2949 requires regulating entities to notify a holder of a license, certification, or registration of applicable laws and changes in applicable laws (State & Local Government)
- House Bill 2978 requires .5% reduction of sales tax on food in next fiscal year when surplus revenues exceed $50,000,000 in current fiscal year (Government Operations)
- House Bill 3399 requires local law enforcement agencies to increase patrols around high schools whose students are at risk of being exposed to criminal activity before or after school (Education)
- House Bill 2587 clarifies that kerosene sold directly to a consumer for residential use is tax exempt (Budget Subcommittee)
- The House will likely take up a resolution during the Monday session that states their position on the boundary dispute raised by the General Assembly of Georgia. House Joint Resolution 919 states that “the Tennessee-Georgia boundary has been properly established.”