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Drugged driving bill passes W.Va. House

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia House on Wednesday passed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill that aims to crack down on people who drive while under the influence of illegal drugs.

Some Republican lawmakers objected to the legislation, saying it could violate motorists' privacy rights and put an undue burden on law enforcement officers.

"I'm concerned we're setting up our State Police for something they can't do or can't accomplish," said Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood. "This may perhaps be something that is better suited to an interim study. It is a very complex issue that has many tangents to it and many things to be looked at."

The bill, which passed by a 72-26 vote, allows the state to revoke a driver's license for at least 45 days if the arrested driver refuses a blood test.

The bill's opponents said the blood test is much more intrusive than a Breathalyzer test used to measure drivers' blood alcohol levels. Delegates also have questioned whether individuals taking prescribed dosages of prescription drugs could face drugged driving charges.

Under the bill, the State Police forensic lab will determine the legal levels of various drugs. The bill also requires that police receive training to recognize the signs of a drugged driver.

House members emphasized Wednesday that the bill, if passed by the Senate, does not force motorists to take blood tests.

Tomblin proposed the bill during his State of the State address in February. The bill now moves to the Senate:

Also Wednesday, House members:

* Passed a bill (HB2805) that allows public financing for candidates running for the state Supreme Court. House members voted 70-29 to continue the program, which started as a pilot project last year.

Allen Loughry, a Republican, won a seat on the Supreme Court after receiving public funds through the pilot program.

"It's a good way to get special interest money out of elections," said Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion.

The bill would give qualified candidates up to $300,000 in campaign funds during the primary election, and $525,000 during the general election.

"It's completely voluntary," Manchin said.

House Minority Whip Daryl Cowles said Loughry won the election in spite of the public campaign-financing program, which sparked legal challenges last year.

Cowles, R-Morgan, likened the project to "government financing of partisan politics."

"Friends, the pilot project was a failure," said Cowles, who voted against the bill.

* Approved legislation (HB2825) that could raise the salary of the next cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources from $95,000 to $175,000.

* Killed a bill (HB2946) that would have repealed the ban on Sunday liquor sales in West Virginia. The bill also would have allowed the sale of beer and wine starting at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Under state law, consumers can't buy beer or wine at West Virginia retail stores until 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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