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Drunken Logic

by Published on

House Bill 99

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)

They say sober minds don’t always prevail. They certainly aren’t prevailing—at least not yet—on one Texas state representative’s proposal to curb drunk driving.

House Bill 99, authored by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, proposes a new penalty for anyone caught driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .16 or higher—“aggravated driving while intoxicated.” This enhanced DWI would be a Class A misdemeanor and would carry a minimum jail time of 30 days.

Martinez Fischer says he’s trying to address a serious problem. “We are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the states that have the highest index of drinking and driving arrests, accidents and fatalities,” he says.

How can anybody argue with that? But HB 99 isn’t likely to deter anyone from drinking and driving.

Let’s face it. if current DWI laws aren’t stopping people from driving drunk already, enhancing the penalty isn’t going to dissuade anyone from slamming that last tequila shot. It just isn’t likely that you will be discerning between a DWI and an ADWI (aggravated driving while intoxicated) while in the grips of bacchanalian revelry.

“People just don’t think that way,” says Ana Correa, director of the Criminal Justice Coalition. “The problem with this bill is that it doesn’t address the root causes of drunk driving. It has nothing to do with treatment, only punishment.”

Studies show that incarceration actually increases the overall likelihood of re-offending by .07 percent, according to the National Corrections Institute, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “A drunk driver is an addict,” says Judge Ernie Glenn, who oversees drug and alcohol probation cases at the Bexar County Drug Court. “If you send them to jail, they still have the addiction. You haven’t dealt with it.” 

As an alternative to incarceration, court-supervised treatment programs have had amazing success. Around 87 percent of the people who have gone through the Bexar County Drug Court have cleaned up their act.

Martinez Fischer’s approach would cram more people into our already-overcrowded prison system at higher cost to the state. The Legislative Budget Board estimates that Texas spends around $3.6 million a day on incarcerated non-violent offenders. With Martinez Fischer’s bill having been passed out of its committee, that number could soon increase.