CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill that would punish people who drive while under the influence of drugs made it out of one House committee Tuesday but not before significant changes were made.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called for a bill to define penalties for drugged driving, but many House members saw problems with the legislation.
Legislators did approve a measure Tuesday, but it was the fifth draft of the bill. The key to this bill is it allows officers to ask drivers to submit to a test to see if they are impaired by drugs, said Chris Weikle, Tomblin's deputy policy director.
"Previously, officers did not have implied consent for testing for drugs. They only had it for alcohol," Weikle said. "This nationalizes West Virginia, as we were one of the only states that did not have an implied consent for drugs."
Implied consent means a person who has a valid drivers' license and chooses to drive consents to being asked to take a test if an officer suspects that driver could be intoxicated. Actually taking a blood test still requires a warrant, Weikle emphasized.
The new measure would also allow officers to take a drivers' license if he or she was arrested and continued to refuse to submit to a blood test.
"That's just making it consistent with what drunk driving is," Weikle said. "If you refuse the secondary breath test for drunk driving, your license is revoked, and the committee wanted to make it consistent."
At the same time, the bill acknowledges there are no set standards for what constitutes impairment when using different drug types. It calls for a study by the West Virginia State Police, asking the agency to determine the amount of a substance in a person's blood that would count as intoxicating and could be used as evidence in court.
"It's asking the forensic lab to give us a '.08' so to speak for the various drugs on the list," said committee attorney Brian Skinner. He was referring to the amount of alcohol someone is allowed to have in the body and operate a vehicle before he or she is considered drunk.
The bill would require additional training for law enforcement officers, bumping hours needed for courses in recognizing drivers under the influence of drugs from two hours to six hours.