Legislature acts on drunk driving, abortion

Listen to this story: 
May 9, 2011 - 7:00pm

Changing the way drunk drivers are handled, and prohibiting telemedicine or "webcam" abortions, were among proposals advanced in the Legislature Tuesday.

Under current law, someone stopped for first-offense drunk driving can have his or her license revoked for 90 days under the administrative license revocation process. But Senator Mike Flood of Norfolk says it would be more effective to encourage people to use ignition interlock devices. Those are machines that require people to blow into a machine that won't allow a car to start if it detects alcohol on their breath.

"What happens now is you get your license suspended and if you're a drunk, you still have a car you still have a set of keys, it's got a license on it, you're not making good decisions you're driving on a suspended license," said Flood. "And our courts are littered with DUS violations. So what I like about the ignition interlock is at least if you are driving, you're blowing into a device that says you're not drinking and the rest of us are safer."

Under Flood's legislation, a first-offense drunk driver could chose between 180 day administrative license revocation or using an ignition interlock device for 180 days. And time spent using the ignition interlock would also count against any subsequent time using the device that a court would order. Flood said the new approach would let people who made a mistake still drive to work, or alcohol education classes, while protecting the public. The bill, which also toughens penalties for boating while drunk and for procuring alcohol for minors, got first-round approval on a vote of 41-0.

On abortion, lawmakers took up a proposal by Lincoln Senator Tony Fulton to require a doctor be physically present when an abortion-inducing drug is dispensed. In Iowa, a woman up to seven weeks pregnant can go to a clinic where she's examined by a nurse practitioner, then consults via teleconferencing with a doctor via who can by remote control open a drawer containing the drugs. At a March 9 public hearing, Fulton said his bill is "intended to prevent the proliferation of these webcam abortions into our state." The Supreme Court has ruled state regulations are unconstitutional if they're intended to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. But states can enact regulations to ensure women's safety. That's what Fulton emphasized in floor debate.

"Requiring the physical presence of the physician is motivated by, and is important for, the safety of the mother who undergoes a chemical abortion," he said.

Despite an attorney general's opinion, critics of the proposal said the bill is unconstitutional. Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad questioned Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, a supporter of the bill who made it his priority this session.

"Is your intent to reduce the number of abortions in Nebraska?" she asked. "That would be part of the hope. There is also a big part that deals with the safety of the patient," Bloomfield replied.

Lincoln Senator Amanda McGill, an opponent, predicted the bill would have little effect. "If a woman really wants an abortion, she's going to drive to get it," McGill said. "It's such a life-impacting decision that if a woman really wants it, she's going to drive and find that opportunity."

After several hours of debate, senators voted 34-9 first round approval for the bill.



blog comments powered by Disqus