NASHVILLE - The chairman of a House panel overseeing drunken-driving legislation says he doesn't see lowering Tennessee's legal standard for DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 percent until at least 2016 because of costs.
But House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chairman Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, said he does think a 2014 priority will be cracking down on drivers who combine alcohol with prescription medications.
"To have success in the Legislature, we need to do things incrementally," Shipley told reporters last week when asked about the 0.05 percent blood alcohol level recently recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Shipley spoke during a news conference with Mothers Against Drunk Driving after Gov. Bill Haslam signed another DUI bill, sponsored by Shipley, that passed in the recent session.
Beginning July 1, it expands the state's ignition interlock program to first-time DUI offenders with blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 and above.
The interlock is something like a portable intoximeter. The driver must blow into a device that measures blood-alcohol content and blocks the car from starting when it detects alcohol.
The program now applies to second or subsequent DUI offenses.
First-time offenders could get a six-month restricted license only if they agree to have the device installed on their vehicles.
Shipley said the expansion will make new demands on a fund for those too poor to afford the device.
Combining those costs with the additional convictions under a 0.05 blood alcohol content level is expensive, he said. It gets more so when the cost of jailing offenders is added.
"We probably won't think about that [lowering to 0.05] until 2016 or so," Shipley said.
Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, a former prosecutor and co-sponsor of the expanded ignition interlock bill, joined Shipley for the news conference. The measure amounts to a "zero tolerance" law for anyone convicted of DUI, he said.
Jan Withers, president of Tennessee's MADD chapter, said the group is more interested for now in having an effective interlock program.
"We are majorly, majorly focused on saving as many lives right now," she told reporters. "That's why we're very focused on alcohol use of interlock for all convicted drunk drivers because that will save the most lives right now."
Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.