DUI threshold bill stalls: House committee defers measure to lower legal blood alcohol limit

A House committee Tuesday deferred a measure that would have made Hawaii the second state in nation to lower its blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving to 0.05.

The proposed measure, Senate Bill 754, passed through the state Senate earlier this month but failed to gain traction in its first of two committee assignments in the House on Tuesday.

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Following more than 25 minutes of testimony and discussion, House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Chairman Mark K. Nakashima (D-Hamakua and Hilo) recommended deferring the measure. With the move, Senate Bill 754 is for all intents and purposes dead this session unless revived through gut-and-replace tactics.

Nakashima was unable to be reached for insight on the deferral as of press-time Wednesday.

Senate Bill 754 called for the blood-alcohol content level for being arrested and charged with driving under the influence of an intoxicant be reduced from the current 0.08% to 0.05%. That translates to a decrease from 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood to 0.05 grams of alcohol. For a Breathalyzer test, it would be a reduction from 0.08 grams of alcohol to 0.05 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

If enacted, the measure would have made Hawaii only the second state in the nation to lower the threshold, following Utah’s move in 2018.

Support for the measure as it moved through the Senate and first committee in the House outweighed opposition. For Tuesday’s hearing nearly 30 groups and individuals submitted testimony in support of the measure compared with just over a half dozen offering testimony against the bill.

“Neither MADD nor this bill is against drinking — we are against driving after drinking,” said Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) founder Carol McNamee. “We ask people to plan ahead so they don’t get themselves in a position of having to drive to their destination after consuming alcohol. With a lower blood alcohol of 0.05, we believe that more people will do the smart thing and make sure they will not get behind the wheel after drinking.”

Offering testimony against the measure’s passage were the Office of the Public Defender, Wine Institute, and owners of establishments as well as individuals.

“This measure is disastrous legislation for the hospitality industry and tourism in general, not to mention gracious living in Hawaii. If passed, this would make criminals out of a whole lot of people who actually create very little, if any additional risk, to others,” Peter Longhi of Longhi’s Restaurants Hawaii.

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Bill Comerford, who previously operated four bars on Oahu, including Irish Rose and Anna O’Briens, called the proposed measure a “death knell to the bar industry that is already on the brink of destruction after being closed for 11 months of the last 12.”

“Bars must carry a $1 million dollar liquor liability insurance policy now. That cost could double and the likelihood of being sued is not worth the risk of operating at such a low level,” said Comerford.

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