Thursday, August 23, 2001

Ky. gets $2M for DUI change

Federal grant awarded for lowering standard

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Kentucky has received a $2 million federal transportation grant, a reward for lowering the blood alcohol level used to determine drunken driving to 0.08.

        All told, 27 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico received grants totaling $76.75 million for lowering the level.

        Ohio, which has not lowered the blood alcohol level from 0.10, was not among the states receiving grants and will lose millions in federal highway funds if the 0.08 level is not passed into law.

        “Ohio is a loser once again,” said Ohio Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, who has sponsored legislation in the General Assembly to lower the limit.

        “We haven't passed the bill lowering the limit yet, and if we don't do it soon we stand to lose up to $65 million over the next several years,” Mr. Damschroder said. “That's a lot of filled potholes and bridge repair work we can't afford to lose.”

        Congress passed legislation in 2000 that essentially penalizes states for not lowering the blood alcohol level.

        If states don't comply, 2 percent of their scheduled 2004 federal highway funds will be withheld. This year, that would be $18.2 million for Ohio. Federal highway funds are expected to grow by 1 percent each year.

        The new funding law raises the penalty by an additional 2 percent each of the following three years, reaching a maximum of 8 percent by October 2006. States would be penalized 8 percent each year after 2006, but if they lower their blood alcohol level by 2007, their withheld funds would be returned, Mr. Damschroder said.

        A bill lowering the level has passed an Ohio House committee and could be voted on this fall.

        But Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, opposes the bill and is unlikely to call it for a vote.

        Mr. Finan did not return a phone call Wednesday but has previously called Congress' threat to withhold highway money “federal blackmail.”

        Mr. Finan has indicated he does not believe lowering the blood alcohol level will reduce drunken driving.

        “If I really thought lowering the blood alcohol content to .08 was going to help with the problem of drunk driving in the state, then I would be leading the charge,” Mr. Finan said in May.

        Kentucky passed a law lowering the blood alcohol level last year. It was co-sponsored by House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder.

        Mr. Callahan said he pushed for the bill to save lives and to secure federal highway money for Kentucky.

        “There was no question that if we didn't take this action we would be losing federal money that we badly need for our highways,” Mr. Callahan said Wednesday.

        The federal government plans to continue awarding up to $500 million in grants through 2006, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday in a statement.

        Kentucky is scheduled to receive $2,019,221, said Mark Pfeiffer, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in Frankfort.

        Details have not been worked out but the money will be used for highway safety programs and possibly DUI patrols operated by the Kentucky State Police, Mr. Pfeiffer said.


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