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Legislating under the influence

Legislating under the influence

Issue date: 1/30/07

After proving last session that the Arizona state Legislature is fertile ground for ridiculous ideas (bills regarding bestiality and public breastfeeding come to mind), legislators in Phoenix have once again managed to cook up an idea that should have been dead on arrival.

In another effort to crack down on first-time extreme DUI offenders, state Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, introduced a bill to bar judges from reducing their sentences.

Waring's efforts to toughen DUI laws are nothing new - he introduced a similarly rigid DUI bill last session - but Sen. Jorge Luis Garcia, D-Tucson, apparently thought Waring's SB 1026 didn't go far enough.

In debate on the Senate floor Thursday, Garcia attached an amendment to the bill that would allow a first-time DUI offender to escape all but 10 days of a jail sentence if he or she opts to pay for treatment in a rehabilitation center instead.

While Sen. Garcia's intentions seem to be genuine - the legislator believes that it's "good for society" if a DUI offender is rehabilitated rather than punished - but the notion of a DUI offender paying his way out of punishment is unacceptable.

In a study commissioned in 2006, Arizona came in at No. 6 among states with the largest increases in DUI-related deaths (a startling 42 percent of Arizona's traffic deaths involved alcohol).

Faced with such dire statistics, it's clear that something must be done to combat Arizona's DUI problem. And while Sen. Garcia's assertion that rehabilitation is better than mere jail time is a worthy one, the senator's money isn't where his mouth is.

Garcia's rehabilitation amendment included no appropriation, meaning that DUI offenders who happen to be poor can't expect any state funds to help them check into a rehabilitation center.

Their well-heeled counterparts, on the other hand, can check into a center like Sierra Tucson -

Attorney Kathleen Carey

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