By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant intends to sign a bill aimed at strengthening laws against drunken driving, his spokesman said Monday.
The response from the Republican governor came the same day the American Beverage Institute, based in Washington, D.C., urged Bryant to veto House Bill 481.
The group said it represents 80 Mississippi restaurants. It said if the bill becomes law, it would be expensive to enforce and would create too much work for Mississippi probation officers.
The bill is expected to hit Bryant’s desk in the next several days. With his signature, the bill will become law July 1, 2014.
It says when someone is convicted for a first-offense DUI, the person’s driver’s license could be suspended for 90 days, or a judge could order a 30-day license suspension and require the person to use an ignition interlock device for six months. The device prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has alcohol on his or her breath.
The bill also says that a fourth offense DUI would automatically be a felony, carrying two to 10 years in prison. It wouldn’t matter how many years had passed between the previous convictions and the fourth one.
Under current law, a person can face a felony by having three or more DUI convictions within five years.
The American Beverage Institute’s managing director, Sarah Longwell, said in a news release that requiring ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders is a bad idea because it might be a too-harsh punishment for people who unintentionally have a bit too much to drink.
“Requiring interlocks for hardcore … offenders is a much more effective and financially sound way to fight drunk driving,” Longwell said.
She defined hardcore offenders as those with high blood-alcohol content measurements or people with multiple convictions.
In Mississippi, a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.8 percent can be convicted of DUI.
The bill was sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, whose parents and sister were killed by a drunk driver in the late 1980s. One of the co-sponsors is Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, whose young niece was killed two months ago after her parents’ vehicle was hit by a driver that Formby said had previous DUI convictions.
Gunn told reporters last week that he considers the bill one of the top accomplishments of the 2013 legislative session, which ended this past Thursday.
On its website, the Mississippi chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving has a form letter that people can send to lawmakers, urging support for the bill.
“In 2011, 149 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in Mississippi representing 24 percent of all total traffic fatalities,” the MADD letter says. “People who have previous drunk driving convictions make up approximately one-third of the drunk driving problem in America. Additionally, even first-time offenses are serious indicators that a person is likely to become a repeat offender. Research shows that first-time offenders have driven drunk an average of 80 times before they are convicted.”
The final version of the bill passed the House 112-4 and the Senate 52-0.
House Bill 481: http://bit.ly/Ybvgx7
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus