JOHNSON CITY — A GOP-sponsored package of bills aimed at curbing drunk driving has a real chance at getting a green light this year from Tennessee lawmakers, said both House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower and state Rep. Jon Lundberg.
The two GOP lawmakers touted the anti-drunk driving proposals during a taping of “Legislative Chat,” a public affairs program produced for public television by East Tennessee State University.
At the start of this legislative session, Mumpower recalled a discussion he had with his GOP Caucus members to be more responsible with mixed beverages.
“We had seen as legislators so many of our Democratic colleagues suffer from accidents that involved the overuse of alcohol,” Mumpower, R-Bristol, said. “I thought it was a good idea to remind my members that if they were ever out in a situation where perhaps they had too much to drink that there was always someone they could call for a safe ride, and that was me. I don’t drink at all. ... If nothing else I will be stone cold sober.
“Drunk driving is not a disease or an addiction. Drunk driving is a choice.”
Then came the GOP’s effort to introduce legislative measures to reduce fatal accidents related to drunk driving.
The bills include proposals to automatically revoke a driver’s license if the driver refuses a blood test, lowering legal blood alcohol content levels for certain offenses, greater use of ignition interlock devices, and a ban on open alcoholic beverage containers in vehicles.
Lundberg, who introduced the open container ban in the House, noted past attempts to pass the bill had failed because University of Tennessee football fans wanted to have a drink on the way to the game.
“It was known as a ‘Pass the Bottle’ bill because if ... I’m drinking a beer and somebody pulls me over, I can just (hand the beer over). This legislation would cap that,” Lundberg, R-Bristol, said of the bill.
Mumpower said judges recently attending the Tennessee Judicial Conference want tougher drunk driving laws.
The bill package is being debated amid state Rep. Rob Briley’s recent guilty plea to leaving the scene of an accident and property damage prior to leading authorities on a high-speed chase last September. He had been sentenced to 10 days in jail on separate charges of drunken driving.
Briley, D-Nashville, formerly chaired the House Judiciary Committee — the place where drunk driving legislation is first considered by lawmakers.
Aside from drunk driving measures, Mumpower said he wants the Tennessee Lottery to use numbered Ping-Pong balls instead of computer picks to determine winners in lottery games.
The lottery reported problems last August related to a Cash 3 and Cash 4 drawing.
“It created an immediate uncertainty and distrust in the minds of Tennesseans who choose to play the lottery. ... We have seen lottery sales decline for the Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick 5 games,” Mumpower, a lottery oversight committee member, said of the glitch. “We had to pay double refunds to customers who had purchased those tickets.”
Mumpower also addressed his election year chances for the GOP to take control of the Tennessee House from Democrats, who currently hold a 53-46 majority.
“When I joined the House 12 years ago, we had 36 Republicans out of 99 members in the House. ... We didn’t lose any Republican seats in 2006. We are going to be working hard to gain seats,” Mumpower said.
Having former GOP presidential contender Fred Thompson as likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s vice president nominee would help, Mumpower indicated.
Mumpower said that if New York U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, it would help GOP state races in Tennessee.
“I think she is a more polarizing figure, yes,” Mumpower said.
Mumpower’s and Lundberg’s appearance on “Legislative Chat” will air Sunday, Feb. 24, at 11 p.m. on WETP-TV Channel 2 and WKOP-TV Channel 15.