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Courtney takes another shot at DUII bill

Legislation would lower blood alcohol level, affecting who gets stopped for driving under the influence.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney has proposed a new bill to reduce the blood alcohol level needed for a DUII arrest. The bill was proposed to reduce crashes, like this one in Clackamas County, involving impaired drivers.Drivers who have at least 0.08% blood alcohol content two hours after getting behind the wheel would still face driving under the influence charges under a bill introduced by Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

Courtney said that he introduced the legislation, Senate Bill 1503, in response to an Oregon Supreme Court decision from November. The case concerned John Hedgpeth, who was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Coos County in 2014. Prosecutors relied on breathalyzer results showing his blood alcohol content at 0.09% two hours after he was pulled over for riding his motorcycle without a helmet.

Hedgpeth challenged his conviction, arguing that the breathalyzer results weren't proof that he was drunk at the time he was riding his motorcycle because police waited nearly two hours before testing his blood alcohol content level. During that time, he argued, his body had time to absorb any alcohol be consumed, pushing his alcohol content level past the legal limit.

PMG/EO MEDIA/SRThe court noted in its decision that other states, such as Colorado and Washington, have laws that make it illegal to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08% at the time of driving or two hours after. The court further noted that it was up to the Legislature to put a similar law on the books in Oregon.

Courtney, who also serves as Senate president, is trying to do just that. He said that the court decision caught "a lot of people by surprise."

"Unfortunately, right now, because of the way the law is written there is a hesitancy on the part of our law enforcement," he said. "And, therefore, we're going to have to redo it."

During the 2019 session, Courtney unsuccessfully introduced a bill last session to lower the legal blood alcohol content level from 0.08% to 0.05% for a driving under the influence conviction.

Shaun McCrea, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said that her group would be watching the bill but hasn't taken a stance on it. She said that someone could take a shot of whiskey and drive before it has time to affect them. "As we know, alcohol doesn't generally affect someone instantaneously," she said.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or jake@salemreporter.com or @jakethomas2009. Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, saphara@salemreporter.com or @daisysaphara.