Tennessee state lawmakers have backtracked on DUI legislation passed this summer after the federal government threatened to withhold funding for the state's roads. The law, which took effect in July, increased DUI penalties for drivers from 18 through 20 years old. However, it also increased the maximum legal blood alcohol content for those young people from 0.02 percent up to 0.08.
State Stood to Lose $60 Million in Funding
This BAC increase violated federal zero-tolerance standards for those under the legal drinking ages, which is 21 in Tennessee. Thus, if the law remained in place, Tennessee stood to lose 8 percent, or some $60 million, of its federal funding for roads effective Oct. 1.
Therefore, Gov. Bill Haslam called lawmakers back for a special session in which they reinstated the 0.02 percent limit and the more lenient penalties by nearly unanimous votes in both houses. It wasn't reported why the legislature opted to repeal the entire law rather than simply the part that lowered the maximum legal BAC.
More Lenient Penalties for Underage DUIs Reinstated
The law passed in July changed the penalties for adults under 21 convicted of DUIs to make them the same as for drivers 21 and older. These include a year's probation after spending 48 hours behind bars. Young adults convicted of drunk driving may now face only a year's license suspension and a $250 fine. Further, repeat offenses don't bring harsher penalties.
Partisan Divide Revealed
Like most everything these days, opinions regarding the law and the necessity to change it were divided along party lines. Some Republicans, who have the majority in the legislature, claimed that the federal government had no business interfering with state law. One said the government was "blackmailing us." Democrats pointed out that the Republican governor and legislature "messed up" and should have realized the consequences of the law passed in July, which violated federal standards.
While many people don't see the relevance of politics to their daily lives, this is just one example of how the choices we make when we decide to vote (or not) can impact us. While it's never wise to drink and drive at any age, it's important to know the law. That's why experienced legal guidance is essential to helping you determine your options and protect your rights.
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