The Iowa House began the day quarreling about drunken driving. A provision included in a budget bill sets up a new appeal for those who lose their commercial driving license because they were picked up for drunken driving.
Representative Rick Olson, a Democrat from Des Moines, says under current law those who get their regular driver’s license back because their drunken driving arrest was tossed out as the test was bad or the stop was illegal still can’t get their commercial drivers license back for a year because there’s no appeal. “I get my drivers license back immediately if there’s an unconstitutional stop, the machine wasn’t working — all those items…but (with) my commercial drivers license I’m still disqualified for a year,” Olson says. “This gives me an opportunity to appeal, make my case with the criminal court.”
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City says the change Olson touts never made its way through the committee process. “There’s a reason why most of you probably wouldn’t vote for this…on it’s own merits because this bill would tell those that have been found to be drunk while driving that while we may not give you the keys to a Toyota Prius to drive down the streets of our fair cities, we’ll give you the keys to an 18-wheeler to drive down our interstates,” Rants says.
But Olson says a trucker who got their right to drive a Toyota Prius back today cannot under current law get their commercial drivers license reinstated at the same time. “It’s a huge deal because you’re illegally stopped, next thing you know you still lose your job,” Olson says. “That’s not right.”
Rants still accused Olson and others of “going soft” on drunk drivers. “I’m often asked…’What do I see in my crystal ball?…I brought it with me today and do you know what I see? Somebody’s going to die. I cannot believe that the Democratic Party is going to put drunk drivers back on the road,” Rants says. “…A lot of you have spent a lot of time this year talking about the effects of secondhand smoke. You know, putting someone behind the wheel of a semitrailer who’s drunk is more deadly than secondhand smoke.”
Olson, who’s an attorney, says a 1995 Iowa Supreme Court ruling held that legislators have a right to set up the kind of appeals process the House has endorsed. “That case was most recently upheld April 9th of this year…a scenario where someone got their drivers license back but they were unable to get their commercial drivers license back because of this quirk in the law,” Olson says, “and that’s what it is.”
The change Olson seeks was endorsed by the House on a 50 to 44 vote. It’s included in a budget bill that must clear the Senate, too.