Republicans have a difficult challenge in the 2009 Oklahoma Legislature. After 100 years of control by the Democrats; this populist body with more actual power than the governor is now in the hands of Republicans. Will Republicans prove to be the party of reason and reform or, like the Washington elite, become greedy, bombastic self-promoting disingenuous establishment types – wink, wink, pay-to-play, it matters not what we say.
Making the first case in point, Senator Harry Coates, R-Seminole, includes this quote in his most recent press release, “Our laws have little effect on the amount of drunk driving in our state. We have to strengthen these laws so that people truly fear the consequences of getting caught driving drunk,” said Coates.
Once again slowly: Law does not change behavior so Sen. Coats wants more law.
Horrendous safety issues are obvious and well documented anytime people drive under the influence of alcohol and it has long been illegal. However, at no point does anyone ever plan to drive drunk. No one first meets the day saying, “I plan to risk my life, health and freedom and maybe kill people today by driving drunk and stupid.”
It is understandable that Sen. Coats would hate drunk drivers after losing a loved-one in 2008. Yes, more than 17,000 Americans are killed each year by drunk drivers (out of 300,000,000) including approximately 275 Oklahomans.
However, more Americans and Oklahomans are killed each year by drivers falling asleep at the wheel – the top reason for accidents and death on the highway. No state legislation has been found by Tulsa Today
requiring rest for drowsy drivers. Maybe that is because there is no sin to slam and no emotional MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) group demanding draconian measures. Maybe we need DADS (Dads Against Driving Sleepy) which could educate, lobby, etc. to help prevent drivers from continuing a journey beyond their point of exhaustion.
Regardless, law does not change behavior. Education, personal commitment, individual acceptance of personal responsibility (rather than victim-hood) change behavior.
Sen. Coats bill (SB 1014), also known as the Brandon Burgett Act, is named in memory of Coates’ sister-in-law’s 20-year-old step-nephew. Burgett was killed and his 17-year-old girlfriend put in the hospital after a drunk driver hit them head on as they were coming back from a Christian concert in Oklahoma City on July 5. The drunk driver, 26-year-old Brent Johnson, was killed also. The young couple was a half mile from their turnoff on I-40 when Johnson hit them head on while traveling west bound in the east bound lane.
SB 1014 would require an individual to forfeit all vehicles in which that person has an ownership interest
following his or her FIRST
DUI felony offense conviction.
Under the bill, the defendant would be required to pay all the costs associated with the forfeiture including the wrecker and storage. After paying off all the expenses, any leftover funds from the sale of a forfeited vehicle would be deposited in the Drug Abuse Education and Treatment Revolving Funds for use in the treatment and drug testing of indigent substance abusing offenders participating in the Oklahoma Drug Court Act or for substance abuse prevention.
The maxim, "Equity abhors a forfeiture" is important to understand in this context. Government sieaure of private property is rarely proper in a free society and most humans hate it. Forfeiture of “all vehicles” including those not invloved in any law breaking is not likely to be upheld by the courts.
Rich people may not mind losing a vehicle or fleets of vehicles, but the young and the poor facing such coniquences may think, however inapproperitely, it is worth the risk to attempt to flee from police thus increasing danger to the public and law enforcement.
Further, this type of draconian state reaction stands contrary to economic development measures funded by the state and most municipalities. “Young Professionals” are often a solicited group because they are more likely innovators and entrepreneurs. They are also the group most likely to misread their own capabilities while under the influence of alcohol.
Locally loyal, intelligent, productive and innovative Oklahoma youth are already moving to other states if they have ever had trouble with the law to avoid a second such brush with penalties that could forever destroy their reputation and limit their ability to build successful careers.
However, proven criminals like former-Senator Gene Stipe (Oklahoma’s most infamous Democrat) would care less as they know how to work the court system.
Sen. Coats also shows foolishness in this effort noting that the real problem are repeat offenders not, as his bill targets, first time offenders. His press release said, “According to a 2008 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report released in November, there are an estimated two million drunk drivers with three or more convictions in the U.S., including 400,000 drunk drivers with five or more convictions. Coates pointed out that Johnson had a previous arrest on his record for drunk driving without a license or insurance, but was back behind the wheel that night once again after drinking and again without a license or insurance.”
Again slowly, if law alone worked, it would have prevented the Brandon Burgett tragedy as Johnson was a repeat offender engaged in multiple violations that fateful night.
With all respect and sympathy for the Coats family’s loss, please Senator, use your good office for law that really solves problems rather than that which just sounds good at first reading.