Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 20, 1999
Contact: Dave Nelson
(512) 463-0112

NELSON BILL STRENGTHENS DWI LAWS, SAVES ROAD MONEY BUT FACES TIGHT DEADLINE FOR APPROVAL

AUSTIN -- The Texas Senate today approved a bill authored by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, that would expand the state's open container law and strengthen penalties for repeat DWI offenders.

Senate Bill 128, which is tied to federal transportation dollars under the latest federal highway spending bill, faces a midnight Saturday deadline for Senate bills to be heard in House committees. If it fails, Texas - which is currently only meeting about 40 percent of its transportation needs - will see $40 million a year of its highway money tied up in safety programs and unavailable for highway construction beginning in 2000. That number begins to double in 2002.

The current open container law only applies to drivers and requires police to actually see the driver take a drink, and current DWI laws mandate at least a 180-day suspension on second conviction. The federal Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century requires that states to have open container laws that apply to both drivers and passengers, as well as repeat DWI laws that trigger a one-year license suspension on the second offense.

The House last week approved a similar bill, HB 487, but it was tagged on Friday and killed. Now the legislation must start from scratch in the House.

"We have the opportunity to do two things with this bill: save lives and build roads," Senator Nelson said. "It is within our power to see this bill through in the remaining days of this Legislature. If we decide to let it die in favor of keeping lax DWI laws and an unenforceable open container law, we would be doing a major disservice to the people of Texas, who overwhelmingly favor this bill. In fact, with transportation dollars so scarce and with Texas recording such a dismal traffic safety record, to let this bill die would be nothing short of irresponsible."

Senator Nelson represents Senate District 12, which includes parts of Dallas, Denton, Ellis and Tarrant County. She is chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

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