Senate panel hears bill increasing penalties for aggravated DUI

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell

(UM Legislative News Service) A bill in the Legislature would change DUI laws in Montana, making it legal for officers to take a blood sample from someone who refuses a breathalyzer on first offense and increasing penalties for aggravated cases.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, is carrying Senate Bill 65 and says there is a parallel between drunk driving and terrorism.

“While DUI offenders don’t intend to kill, they do kill indiscriminately,” Regier said.

State Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion says his office supports the changes and mentioned a Mothers Against Drunk Driving ranking that identified Montana as having the nation’s “most ineffective drunk driving laws.”

Rebecca Sturdevant spoke in support of the bill at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Her son, Montana Highway Patrolman Evan Schneider, was killed in a drunk driving accident at 29 years old. Sturdevant has been lobbying for stricter DUI laws for 10 years.

“You have a responsibility to the state of Montana to stop this. This is a totally preventable death,” Sturdevant said.

The only testimony against the bill came from the ACLU of Montana, which opposes the added penalties for an aggravated DUI.

The bill has a fiscal note of $3.2 million for the added legal fees it would create.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.