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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Lower drunken-driving limit stalls


COLUMBUS - For state Rep. Rex Damschroder, it was a 16-hour roller-coaster ride that started with excitement and ended in frustration.

At about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) told Mr. Damschroder, a Fremont Republican, that his bill to lower Ohio's blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving to 0.08 would be on the House's agenda yesterday. Mr. Damschroder said he stayed up late to write his speech.

But at 8:30 a.m. yesterday, Mr. Damschroder learned that Mr. Householder had pulled the bill from the agenda.

“I don't quite understand,” said Mr. Damschroder. “In my opinion, before you put it on the calendar, you take a tally - not after. Something doesn't make sense. His numbers and my numbers disagree.”

Mr. Householder said he thought he had support for the bill in the 99-member chamber, but a second glance uncovered only eight GOP supporters. In response to a question, Mr. Householder said he couldn't identify any group opposed to lowering the current standard - which is 0.10.

Mr. Damschroder said lobbyists for groups that promote alcohol use have fought the bill, but he said he believed the measure had enough votes to pass.

Nonetheless, Mr. Householder declared the measure dead for this session. “It's inevitable we'll have to do this in Ohio, but we have a year or so before we have to put it into law,” he said.

A federal law requires states to lower the blood-alcohol standard to 0.08 by Oct. 1, 2003, or risk losing federal highway funds, which would cost Ohio $30 million in 2004 and $65 million by 2007.

State Rep. Jim Trakas (R., Independence) said some legislators questioned why the House would vote on a bill that Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale) has blocked for five years, saying it would hamper social drinkers.

Mr. Finan yesterday was pleased that Mr. Householder had pulled the bill from the House agenda. “The good guys win again,” he said with a smile.

Mr. Damschroder said fatalities have decreased in states with the 0.08 standard. Kentucky reported a 25 percent decline in drunken-driving deaths its first year with 0.08, he said.

In 2000, 300 alcohol-related fatalities occurred on Ohio roadways, according to state figures.

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