On Friday, the governor signed Attorney General Tim Fox’s bill aimed at cracking down on repeat DUI offenders. HB 355, sponsored by Rep. Christy Clark (R-Choteau), will create more of a deterrent in Montana law and get more offenders into successful treatment programs.
“The simple fact is that Montana has a real problem when it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol,” Attorney General Fox said. “I’m pleased legislators in both parties stepped up to the challenge and passed my bill. This new law will make our highways safer by deterring repeat offenders.”
Currently, when a repeat offender spaces DUI convictions out by five years or more, subsequent offenses are counted as a first offense. This is allowed until the offender reaches a fourth lifetime DUI, which always counts as a fourth offense and is a felony. The new law also allows judges to look back ten years to add penalties for a second DUI. Additionally, a third DUI will always count as a third regardless of how long ago it occurred.
Attorney General Fox believes the new law will also get more repeat DUI offenders into the successful 24/7 Sobriety Program. Entrance into the program requires two or more DUIs. In just a few years, 24/7 program results shows that 97.8% of participants provide breath samples free of alcohol. His office is working to expand the program into more Montana counties over the next two years.
“I interact with local law enforcement officials on a regular basis and I hear one message consistently: 24/7 works and is an effective tool for combating drunk driving, Attorney General Fox said. “HB 355 will enable our justice system to get more people into this successful program, get more Montanans the help they need, and help make our roads safer.”
HB 355 received bipartisan support from legislators this past session. It passed the House of Representatives 78-20, and later passed the Senate 38-12. The legislature also passed HB 168 (Rep. Doc Moore, R-Missoula) earlier in the session, which established a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) impairment standard for all Montana drivers. HB 355 and HB 168 – both priorities of Attorney General Fox – were the only major DUI bills to pass in the 2013 session.