Penalties for driving under the influence could be increased

Senators advanced a bill May 10 that would revise penalties for drinking and driving under the influence and the duty to stop at motor vehicle accidents.

LB675, introduced by Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, would increase penalties for DUI offenders with prior convictions and would create felony penalties for a failure to stop after an accident that results in serious injury or death.

Pirsch said approximately 83 Nebraskans die per year due to alcohol-related crashes, adding that 116 “serial drunk drivers” in the state have between 10 and 18 prior convictions.

“This bill is designed to target the most dangerous of drunk drivers — the habitual drunk drivers who really have no interest in changing their behavior,” he said.

A Judiciary Committee amendment would:
• increase a probation fine to $2,000;
• increase the fine amount for Class W misdemeanors from the current range of $400 to $600 to a proposed $500 to $1,000 range;
• change the look back period for sentence enhancement purposes to 15 years;
• create a new offense of a prior DUI offender with a blood alcohol content level of .02 or higher, which would be a Class IIIA misdemeanor; and
• require a person who has at least four prior convictions to serve a minimum of two years and complete a diagnostic evaluation before being eligible for parole.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, chairperson of the committee, called subsequent offenders “serious and dangerous.”

“We need to get them off of the streets,” he said. “That message is being sent through this amendment.”

Omaha Sen. Gwen Howard spoke in support of the amendment and said it deals with a matter of someone who excessively drinks and causes harm.

“The stakes are high and the penalties should be high as well,” she said. “I think a lot of families will appreciate this bill.”

The amendment passed 34-0 and the bill advanced from general file on a 38-0 vote.

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