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Federal Government Forces Tennessee To Amend DUI Statute

At the close of Tennessee’s 59th special legislative session last month, the state legislature approved changes to a DUI law that did not comply with federal law. The federal government said the statute, unaltered, could cost Tennessee $60 million in federal funding.

US Capitol

The Tennessee law was out of compliance with federal law because the legislature had eliminated a provision that rendered the allowable BAC as .08. The bill’s purpose was to add stiffer penalties for underage drinkers. The federal government found that the law did not comply with the federal zero tolerance law, which requires states to set the allowable BAC at .02 for drivers under 21. The federal government reacted stringently, giving Tennessee until October 1 to align the state’s BAC limit for 18-year-olds to 21-year-olds with the federal law.

Before the special session, the state’s congressional delegation met with the U.S Secretary of Transportation to discuss potentially avoiding an expensive and onerous special session. Many hoped the legislature could fix the law in January, but there was no such luck.

Last month, Tennessee senator Rand McNally said that in over 30 years in office, he had never seen circumstances quite like these. He expanded that it was “very unusual” that the federal government was interpreting state laws and ordering them to be rewritten. Senator Bo Watson said: “The General assembly was called into special session…by our friends at the federal level, and that is somewhat unprecedented.” A Nashville news source reported shortly before the session that it was a situation with “few historical parallels.” It expanded that the last time similar circumstances occurred was the 1960s, when the Supreme Court forced Tennessee to draw up new legislative districts.

The Senate approved the bill with a 31-1 vote. Less than half an hour later, the House approved the measure 82-2.

Since the federal government did not offer much leeway on the issue, there was a discussion regarding whether to push back against the federal government for mandating the legislature to order a special session. Several legislators believed the federal government should have to pay for the session, which cost taxpayers roughly $25,000 per day. House Representative David Alexander said the federal government’s actions were akin to blackmail.

What’s more, Representative William Lamberth maintained the state legislature is not at fault. He was adamant that the legislature believed that Tennessee laws were fully compliant with the federal government’s laws. In fact, the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Tennessee Attorney General said the state met the requirements of the federal statute. Rep. Lamberth believes the state simply made a policy decision with which the federal government disagreed.

At the conclusion of the special session, Governor Bill Haslam praised the legislature. While recognizing that many disagreed with the federal government’s interpretation that the state’s law was out of compliance, the special session, he explained, was needed to avoid negative consequences.

If you have been charged with a DUI offense in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation to people in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses and representing drivers with revoked licenses before the Illinois Secretary of State. To learn more, and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

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