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Maryland House votes to lower alcohol limit

March 08, 2001

Maryland House votes to lower alcohol limit



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland House of Delegates voted Wednesday to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunken driving from .10 to .08.

All six Washington County delegates supported the legislation, which was prompted by the federal government's threat of withholding millions of dollars in transportation money.

The West Virginia and Pennsylvania legislatures are both considering similar proposals this year.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said for them the money was key.

"Maryland's current system seemed to work, but we certainly are in a position that we can't afford to jeopardize the federal highway dollars," McKee said.

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Local lawmakers also cited the need to toughen laws against drunken driving as reasons to lower the blood alcohol limit.

"I think we need to do everything possible to get drunk drivers off the road and protect the safety of our citizens," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett was undecided about the bill until just before the vote.

"The bottom line for me was, are we going to save lives with this legislation? If it saves one life it's going to do its job," said Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is reviewing the legislation, which must also pass the Senate to become law.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, is a member of the committee who is undecided.

While he hasn't made up his mind about the proposal, he said he doesn't want to disqualify the state from transportation funding.

The measure passed the House by a vote of 116 to 17 with little debate.

Del. Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, was the lone member to argue against the bill.

"We should not go down this road of casting a wider net and catching the casual drinker. Pretty soon we'll have laws on the books that make everyone a criminal," Davis said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George's, said people shouldn't drink even a few drinks and drive. Drivers who have a blood alcohol level of .05 or higher can be convicted of driving while impaired.

Someone who has a blood alcohol content of .08 to .1 is at least six times more likely than a sober driver to be involved in a fatal accident, according to the Maryland State Medical Society.

The legislature is under pressure from the federal government to tighten other drunken driving laws or lose federal highway money.

The Judiciary Committee has already killed a bill that would have banned open alcohol containers in cars.

In the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the .08 legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation. One of the bill's sponsors is Rep. Allan Egolf, R-Franklin.

Staff writer Julie Greene contributed to this story.

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