Jerry Kopel

Do I have this correct? HB 1021, a bill to lower the crime of driving under the influence of alcohol for 0.10 grams of alcohol per hundred milliliters of blood to 0.08 grams also allows local governments to permit the inviting of patrons for free "alcohol tastings" at liquor stores.

Rep. Bob Briggs, (R) Westminster, sponsored the same bill last year as HB 1343. It passed the House but died in Senate Appropriations Committee. Another version lowering the 0.10 grams to 0.08 grams combined with free alcohol tastings passed the legislature in 2001 and was vetoed by Governor Bill Owens on the grounds that it weakened public safety. And he is right.

Someone in a car could drive to various liquor store tastings which are subject to restrictions on how many times a free sample can be offered to a patron. Suppose that patron drank his or her fill and went to enough free liquor tastings or even drank another patron's free drink and then ended the day with a paid drink at a nearby bar. He or she could reach the 0.08 level which wouldn't have happened with just one drink at the bar.

So the government could allow you to have free tastings of alcohol at places that sell liquor for taking home and then put you in jail for over indulging.

Colorado has until 2007 to lower the drunk driving to 0.08 grams or lose $50 million in federal highway construction money. So the time frame isn't yet between a rock and a hard place. And in 2007, Bill Owens will no longer be governor.

This was "supposed" to be the year to lower the alcohol level as the single issue. The interim transportation committee had voted against adding the free liquor tastings to the bill, but they made the title the same as last year "Concerning the Consumption of Alcohol."

Now Colorado is not like Congress where you have log-rolling, the joining together of unrelated measures to gain votes for passage of a measure. Colorado requires a bill to contain a single subject. You cannot put items into a bill that don't fit under the title. Consumption of Alcohol is a broad title and last year's bill began with both 0.08 and free tastings included. That was probably constitutional. Adding free tastings to this year's bill is probably not constitutional.

As reported by the Legal Services office of the legislature "a single subject, notice of the subject, and no change in the original purpose are constitutional mandates, Article V, Sections 21 and 17."

Rep. Briggs admitted at the House hearing on the bill that he added free tastings as an amendment to win backing from the distilled spirits industry. Obviously persons opposed to that change would not have had adequate notice that such a change was contemplated. They would not be in the audience and able to testify against the amendment.

There are two ways the 0.08 grams issue can be solved. First, Colorado has a severability clause which covers ALL statutes. HB 1021, if it did pass, can be severed by the courts to invalidate the free tastings and retain the 0.08 grams. Of course, someone would have to bring the case to court.

Second, the legislature could adopt another bill, HB 1162, regarding the same 0.08 grams approach and sponsored by Rep. Fran Coleman, (D) Denver. It has a very tight title "Concerning Reduction of the Blood Alcohol Content Level for Driving Offenses." Free liquor tastings could not be added to that bill.

A lot of people are not aware how much Gov. Owens has been opposed to this type of weakening public safety. As a state representative, he carried the bill to raise the age for drinking beer from 18 to 21. Time and time again, his bill was killed. But he finally succeeded. If he makes his thoughts known before the Briggs bill is on his desk, I bet the free tastings amendment would disappear.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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