JEFFERSON CITY - A proposal to lower the standard for drunk driving arrests in Missouri picked up a key endorsement Thursday, which in turn highlighted a lack of enthusiasm from Senate Democratic leaders.
Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan announced support for lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol content from .10 to .08, but Democratic leaders in the Senate said their caucus doesn't have a position on drunk driving legislation.
"It's still in our mix, but it has not come out as a priority," said Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico.
Carnahan also called for tougher penalties imposed on repeat offenders and those with a blood alcohol content in excess of .15.
The lower limit legislation, sponsored by Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, criminalizes operation of a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08. Existing law sets a .10 limit.
The Missouri Association of Beverage Retailers, opposed the lower limit in a letter sent to legislators at the start of this year's session.
By lowering the standard, legislators say they hope to curtail the number of fatal drunk driving accidents in Missouri. According to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving website, 11 of 775 fatal drunk driving accidents in Missouri during 1997 involved a driver with a blood-alcohol content between .08 and .10.
A similar bill was bottled up in committee and made it to the Senate too late for a vote last year. This year, it's supported by Senate President Pro Tem Ed Quick, who said the new limit has "as good or better opportunity than it ever had to pass Senate."
An average 180 lb. man will have a blood alcohol level of .08 by consuming four drinks in an hour. This number is cut in half for a 140 lb. woman, who needs two drinks in an hour to be considered too drunk to drive.
Missourian Staff Writer Michael Carney contributed to this report.