Jack Rogers, executive director of the state Public Defenders Service, said public defenders represent about 9,000 first-offense DUIs a year, billing the state for an average cost of $300 per case.
Action on the bill - which replaces the jail sentence with higher fines, mandatory community service, and mandatory participation in an alcohol treatment program - was postponed until today, after Senate Judiciary Chairman Bill Wooton, D-Raleigh, objected to it.
Wooton said it violated the integrity of the Senate to originate a bill in order to bypass a committee.
Craigo said the committee felt it had no alternative, since Judiciary has failed to take up similar bills over the past four years.
"We have a serious problem here. We have a problem that needs to be addressed, and we've waited for four years to get it done," he said.
In other activity Thursday, the Senate:
Passed 34-0 and sent to the House a compromise bill on Public Employees Insurance Agency funding.
The bill, which advanced to the floor late Wednesday, replaced an unpopular proposal to begin increasing employee premiums, beginning next year, for five years.
By 2004, PEIA premiums would have jumped more than 300 percent in most cases.
While it does not preclude a 2000 premium hike, the bill does call for employers, health-care providers, and employees to work together to come up with cost-control measures.
Advanced to passage state today, without debate, bills to legalize casino gambling at The Greenbrier and to reduce the discount on assessed value for managed timberland from the current 70 percent to about 20 percent.