The Nebraska Legislature on Monday gave first-round approval to a bill that would allow drivers who are stopped for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to be able to continue to drive to school, work and other activities if they consent to testing twice a day pending their court trial.
The proposal (LB271) creating the 24/7 Sobriety Program Act, which advanced on a 34-4 vote, was authored by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln and supported by Lancaster County, the Nebraska Attorney General's Office and the Nebraska Association of County Officials.
Its establishment, estimated to cost $100,000, would be paid for by Lancaster County, Morfeld told the Legislature.
Morfeld was peppered with questions from his colleagues, triggered by a flood of text messages raising concerns about the proposal, before senators accepted amendments he already had prepared to address those objections on a 38-2 vote.
The bill, he said, is modeled after a successful program in South Dakota that has demonstrated it is effective in reducing recidivism and increasing highway safety.
More than 99% of the tests were passed during a pilot program in South Dakota, Morfeld said, demonstrating its effectiveness in increasing sobriety, reducing traffic violations and creating "a unique sense of accountability."
"It is a major incentive to sobriety," he said, but would be in effect only in counties that choose to use it.
"It's an alternative for incarceration," Morfeld said, and would not replace current Interlock provisions that may be used to require drivers to blow into a mouthpiece to test breath-alcohol concentration before they can start a vehicle.
Morfeld said the program would "make our streets safer."
"I was uncertain when I first heard this bill," Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln said. "I like alternatives to incarceration when the studies show that people actually get better."
Geist did not cast a vote when the Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the floor of the Legislature on a 6-0 vote, but said she supports the amended proposal.
Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln designated the bill as a speaker priority, ensuring that it would receive floor consideration during this legislative session.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, added the proposal could "help people keep their jobs."
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