JRC Law Day Newsletter

Vol. 7 #8 May 1, 2016


Staggering Paths

The front page article in The Des Moines Register on Sunday, May 1, 2016 entitled “Drunken driving deaths rise, but fewer licenses revoked”, by Kathy Bolten brought to light a change in registration by lobbyists for the Justice Reform Consortium (JRC) on proposed legislation regarding pilot projects for the 24/7 Sobriety Program.  The article stated that:

The Iowa Senate passed the proposal, but it stalled in the Iowa House. Among the groups registered against it were the Justice Reform Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which prefers mandatory ignition interlock devices.

We reported the details of this program in the February 8, 2015 JRC Newsletter article.  Last year JRC was registered as “undecided” on the bill because we were open to the possibility of a program that allows a person to stay out of jail and maintain employment.  We had objections last year to the cost of participating in the program and continued to have objections during the 2016 Legislative Session.  Since the person participating in the program is required to bear the expense for the devices and/or drug testing, the cost becomes prohibitive and justice is not well served.  The bill required the tests to be conducted at least twice a day.  Although the program was voluntary, the cost would be restrictive for the poor, leading to the inability to participate.

This session, the driving force for the 24/7 Sobriety Program wasn’t public safety; it was a battle over which manufacturer would provide the devices for any particular program.  It was truly politics at its worst, complete with substantial conflicts of interest by the lobby.  In the midst of this political mess were legislators who sincerely care about finding a solution to this difficult and destructive issue.

One of the main problems with seeking a solution to this issue is that substance misuse; substance abuse and addiction are completely different problems and need to have different approaches.   For example, an addict should not be put into a program that requires them to think about drugs and alcohol through a mandated 24/7 testing program.  This is counterproductive to long term recovery.  The goal for recovery is to not think about drugs and alcohol 24/7.   In contrast, a person who lacks experience and makes one bad decision from substance misuse and sincerely regrets it should not be given a life-long criminal record that may very well escalate the problem, pushing him or her right into substance abuse because positive opportunities no longer exist.

What was missing from the discussion in both chambers, which historically is always missing from these meetings, are people knowledgeable about the differences in substance misuse, substance abuse and addiction and the consequences for passing these laws.

A law that should be changed if the true goal is to keep chemically impaired people from getting behind the wheel is the law governing public intoxication.  Current laws have created a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario.  If you walk home after drinking too much you can be picked up by the police and thrown in jail.  For an intoxicated person, it may seem like the odds are better to drive versus walk since driving gets you where you are going faster (barring any crashes) and either staggering path potentially leads to jail.

There’s money riding on the outcome of this legislation.  Although it failed this year, we predict it will come up again early next year.

 Stephanie Fawkes-Lee


JRC’s Legislative Agenda for 2016

We held off a week in publishing this edition of the JRC Newsletter because the end of the session was so close.  The Eighty-six Iowa General Assembly adjourned sine die (Latin word for “Please Go Home”) last Friday, April 29 while still daylight.

We will have a future issue with complete coverage on JRC matters just as soon as we can get the garden in and the yard mowed.