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Bill to lower blood alcohol content threshold advances after clearing House committee

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A house bill proposing to lower the threshold of blood alcohol content from .08 to .05 cleared its first hurdle as it passed out of the House Transportation Committee this morning.

The decision comes after the committee received written and oral testimony in overwhelming support of HB1935 earlier this week.

This is the fourth legislative session in a row that bills have been introduced to change the state’s BAC law. Along with HB1935, there are three additional bills being considered related to this measure: SB2384, SB2929 and SB3020.

“Despite the introduction of these bills, I continue to sense a lack of urgency among our lawmakers to pass this legislation and that is beyond troubling,” said Camlyn Pola, vice chair of the East Hawai‘i Drug-Free Coalition in written testimony to the committee. “It costs nothing to change this law. There is no budget implication whatsoever.

“However, the cost of not changing it is more lives lost. Even one alcohol-related traffic death is too many. While just one life saved makes it all worth it.”

Committee member Richard H.K. Onishi, who represents Hilo, told his fellow committee members this morning that after Tuesday’s testimony, he felt compelled to support a zero-tolerance threshold, adding he would be voting yes on the measure with reservations.

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Rep. Luke Evslin of Kaua‘i said he hadn’t felt strongly about the bill going into Tuesday’s public hearing but after listening to the compelling testimony he supported the measure.

Rep. Micah P.K. Aiu was the lone dissenting vote of the committee. Like Evslin, Aiu said he didn’t have strong opinions on lowering blood alcohol content. But the loss people spoke of because of drunk driving moved him.

“I want us to take bold action,” Aiu said, adding he supports zero tolerance and doesn’t support anything less than that.

If the bill passes, Hawai‘i would be the second state to reduce BAC to .05 behind Utah, which passed it into law on Dec. 30, 2018.

While passing the bill would be a relatively small step for legislators, David Hubbard of Puhi, stated it would have a massive impact on the Kaua‘i community.

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“If this measure saves only one life, imagine how great an impact that would have on a family, neighborhood, community, and beyond,” Hubbard said. “The reality is that passing HB 1935 will surely save many many more.

“This is the right step as a state, as we follow the lead of many other countries who have had success lowering the BAC. It’s time to be a front-runner in our nation by taking this step towards “no lives lost to drunk driving.”

Kaua‘i resident Sariah Mokuahi said she believes the passage of HB1395 will not only promote safer roadways but will also help to shift the social norms toward drinking and driving and excessive alcohol use.

“I believe that lowering the BAC to .05 will support more responsible drinking and will save lives in my community,” she said.

Aaron Hoff, founder of Keala Foundation, a nonprofit that provides substance abuse prevention and recovery services through CrossFit training, testified on HB1935 stating lowering the blood alcohol content threshold would prevent more lives from ending prematurely.

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Hoff has been clean of alcohol and substances for 26 years and started the foundation to help youth in his community navigate life’s challenges.

“I lost my nephew recently to driving under the influence and he was just a young man with his whole life ahead of him,” Hoff wrote in his testimony. “That life can never be taken back. 

“Lowering the BAC limit to 0.05 is not about drinking; it is about separating drinking from driving. It is about preventing crashes, injuries, and deaths and creating safer streets for everyone.” 

Keoni Shizuma was the only person to submit written testimony that was neither for nor against lowering the blood alcohol content threshold.

“I did want to express that merely lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit in order to prevent accidents related to alcohol consumption does not seem like a well thought through solution,” Shizuma wrote.

Shizuma said he believed other efforts such as improved enforcement of a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration could result in greater benefit than lowering the limit down to 0.05.

“I am in full support of preventing drunk or intoxicated driving, and educational and other efforts to prevent intoxicated driving, but I do not expect that simply lowering the limit from 0.08 to 0.05 will bring about the improvements in safety that this bill is hoping to achieve,” Shizuma stated.

The measure passed with amendments, one of which includes anyone charged with driving under the influence having .05 to .079 BAC can have it cleared from their record.

It will now go to the House floor for a second vote before it is forwarded to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Kauai Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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