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Lavin Seeks to Expand 24/7 Sobriety Program
Bill would include crimes other than drunken driving
During a 2011 DUI town hall meeting held at The Summit in Kalispell, Rep. Steve Lavin speaks about legislation passed during the 2011 Legislature including House Bill 106 which creates a statewide 24/7 Sobriety program. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
In the signature achievement of his first term, Republican Rep. Steve Lavin of Kalispell carried a bill for then-Attorney General Steve Bullock to establish the 24/7 Sobriety Program for repeat drunken-driving offenders.

Now in his second term, Lavin is picking up where he left off with a bill that seeks to expand, clarify and revise the program to include other crimes that have resulted from both dangerous drug and alcohol abuse. The 2011 measure only addressed drunken driving.

Just like the original bill, Lavin has thus far enjoyed near-unanimous bipartisan support. House Bill 233 passed its third reading in the House on Feb. 13 with a 94-4 vote and was then transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

“It has huge support,” Lavin said last week. “It seems there are no opponents. There are no drawbacks.”

The issue of drunken driving hits home for Lavin, a sergeant for the Montana Highway Patrol. He lost two colleagues within a year of each other when Trooper Evan Schneider and Trooper Michael Haynes were killed by drunken drivers in separate 2008-2009 Flathead County accidents.

Those tragedies helped fuel cries for laws to crack down on drunken driving. At the request of Bullock, Lavin introduced the 24/7 Sobriety Program at the 2011 Legislature.

The bill established a program in which judges can order DUI offenders with two or more offenses to take twice-daily breathalyzer tests or wear alcohol-monitoring bracelets. Failure to pass the tests leads to jail time. Offenders pay for the $2 tests, meaning there is no cost to the taxpayer.

Last May, Bullock and Lavin held a gathering at the Flathead County Courthouse in Kalispell to mark the one-year anniversary since the 24/7 Sobriety Program was signed into law. Accompanying them was Tawny Norton, who was married to Haynes at the time of his death. Lavin and Bullock have both touted the program’s effectiveness.

According to the state Department of Justice, 31 counties as of Feb. 1 were signed up to run the 24/7 sobriety program in some form. Since October 2011, there have been 172,481 alcohol tests administered statewide with 99.7 percent coming up clean, evidence to proponents that the program helps change repeat offenders’ behavior. Factoring in 3,289 no-shows during that period, 97.8 percent of offenders have participated and tested clean.

“You deal more with prevention rather than coming in after the crime,” Lavin said. “I want to stop this stuff from happening.”

Lavin hopes the changes in the new bill would have a similar behavioral impact on various offenders beyond drunken drivers. He said other states have found success in expanding their sobriety programs to include more alcohol- and dangerous drug-related crimes.

As examples of other crimes the program could possibly apply to, Lavin cited partner and family assaults, though the bill doesn’t specifically name offenses.

“I wanted to leave it open for judges to decide if there are some other crimes they think they can apply it to,” he said. “I didn’t want to micromanage it for them.”

“As a law enforcement officer,” he added, “I have seen that the cause of most problems are drug and alcohol abuse.”

The bill contains language clarifying which types of tests can be used to detect substance use, as well as procedural revisions allowing sheriff’s offices to designate other law agencies to enforce the program if they choose.

Lavin said adjusting to the concept of prevention rather than incarceration required a shift in his own “paradigm,” but after seeing the program’s effectiveness he is a believer.

“I’m a law enforcement guy and jail seems to be the answer for everything,” he said. “But then I saw the results for other states and thought this could work here. And we’re getting the same exact results.”
On 02-27-13, Cleve commented....
Hotfish.  An agreement with he truck fuzz????  What a non sequitur.  I have seen MHP with trucks pulled over.  Generally trucks operate at lower speeds than the cars around them.  Ask any good truck driver and they will give you many examples of close calls they…
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