P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 15, 2001
AUSTIN -- The Texas Senate today approved Senate Bill 89 authored by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, to expand the open container law and strengthen penalties for repeat DWI offenders. The bill, which now moves to the House, brings Texas in line with federal guidelines tied to Texas' share of federal highway construction dollars.
"This legislation will prevent tragedies on our roadways and the diversion of millions of federal highway construction dollars. That Texas leads the nation in alcohol related traffic deaths is reason enough to pass this bill, but federal highway money is also precious. Every dollar counts," Senator Nelson said.
Similar legislation passed both chambers of the Legislature in the final days of the 76th session. However, the House version died in the Senate on the eve of a committee deadline to hear House bills, and the Senate version died in House Calendars Committee.
The failure of that effort triggered a $43 million diversion of federal highway construction money into safety accounts under the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century. Another $43 million will be diverted in October, and that figure will double starting in 2002 unless SB 89 passes. Current transportation budget levels are meeting an estimated 36 percent of Texas' identified transportation needs.
Specifically, CS SB 89 stipulates that:
- Driver's licenses be automatically suspended on the second DWI conviction. Current law calls for a suspension of 180 days to 2 years.
- Ignition locking devices be installed on offender's vehicle the year after suspension is lifted.
- Occupants of a motor vehicle can be cited if in the passenger area of a vehicle, police find an open container of alcohol. Under current law, only the driver can be cited, and police must observe the driver consuming alcohol.
- Exceptions are made for passengers in motor homes, limousines and other vehicles used for the transportation of people for compensation.
- Open container citations are Class C misdemeanors punishable by a fine up to $500.
- This act is repealed if the federal requirement is removed.