Pretrial DUI sobriety program clears first round

Individuals awaiting trial for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs could enroll in an alternative diversion program under a bill advanced from general file April 12.

Sen. Adam Morfeld
Sen. Adam Morfeld

LB271, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, would authorize county-level 24/7 sobriety programs created by the sheriff or a designated entity.

Morfeld said evidence from states that have implemented similar programs shows increased rates of sobriety among participants and reduced incidents of alcohol-related traffic accidents and domestic violence.

“Research has shown these programs are more effective at reducing recidivism of drug and alcohol related offenses than traditional monitoring methods,” Morfeld said. “Seeing the same facility staff twice daily gives a unique sense of accountability that is often lacking with just an [ignition] interlock device or suspended license.”

Under the bill, a person awaiting trial for driving under the influence could join a voluntary 24/7 sobriety program as a condition of bail and submit to twice-daily sobriety testing or use of a continuous alcohol monitoring device. Participants would agree not to consume alcohol or any drug not prescribed by a physician while enrolled in the program.

An individual who violates a program’s terms would face immediate sanctions as established in their participation agreement. A sixth violation would result in immediate expulsion from the program and exclusion from further participation.

LB271 also would authorize a special motor vehicle operating permit for individuals enrolled in a 24/7 sobriety program. The permit would be subject to court approval, a $45 issuance fee and at least 30 consecutive days in the program without sanction.

An individual with a 24/7 sobriety permit who is found to be driving under the influence or who refuses a chemical test would be guilty of a Class IV felony, punishable by up to two years imprisonment with 12 months post-release supervision, a $10,000 fine or both.

Morfeld said Lancaster County has agreed to fund the estimated $100,000 programming cost required by the state Department of Motor Vehicles to issue 24/7 sobriety permits.

He introduced an amendment that would limit permit eligibility to individuals whose operator’s license has been revoked related to the current pending offense. An individual would not be eligible if they are subject to a different suspension, cancellation or revocation of their license or are under a required no-driving period.

Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen spoke in support of the bill. He said the program holds participants to a stricter standard than using a breath analysis tool in their cars.

“The 24/7 program is designed to make people remain sober, whereas an Interlock device is designed to make people stop driving drunk,” Hansen said.

Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha also supported LB271, but expressed concern that a violation of program participation could result in a felony charge when an individual’s original charge may have been only a misdemeanor.

Following the 38-2 adoption of the Morfeld amendment, senators voted 34-3 to advance the bill to select file.

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