Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lawmakers need to ‘get it right’

February 6, 2008

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee postponed working and reporting out HB 2617, a bill that would require drug testing at any traffic accidents where someone is killed or seriously injured. Several committee members said more work was needed on the proposal.

Under the bill as proposed, law enforcement would be required to perform drug testing on all people involved in an accident that resulted in serious injuries or fatalities.

Under present law, such a test, frequently a blood sample, can be ordered only if the officer has "reasonable suspicion" that the person is under the influence of drugs.

The amendment to present law was prompted by the death of Amanda Bixby, 19, who was killed in a wreck last year when the other driver ran a stop sign. Her parents, Dennis and Denise Bixby, of Tonganoxie, said the person who struck Amanda should have been tested for drugs. The driver was tested for alcohol but not drugs.

Last week, several committee members said they were concerned that under the proposed bill, blood could be drawn from people even though they were not at fault and under no suspicion. I gave several examples that I personally know about. In one, a person wrecked a car while trying to avoid a tire that fell from the back of a truck. The car driver's legs had to be amputated, in order to remove him from the wreckage. He was not at fault in the accident. "Do you want to test him for drugs?" I asked. I knew that young man; he later died of his injuries.

Another example was an accident in which a man committed suicide on I-435 in Kansas City. You may have read about it. He was hit by more than one driver who never saw him until it was too late. He was killed. The drivers who hit him were devastated, I am sure. Do we want them tested for drugs?

A third example happened to my daughter. A big, dark-painted water trough was dropped onto Interstate 70 between Topeka and Manhattan one night, and Emily and another car were driving on the highway. Because it was dark, they didn't see the object until they were right upon it and both swerved and went into the median. Luckily, neither was badly hurt, but should they be tested for drugs if serious injury or death occurred?

In each of these instances, the law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene knew the cause of the accident and that the drivers were innocent.

There was also a suggestion that the bill be amended to require that passengers of vehicles in such an accident also be drug tested. State Rep. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said, "I think that goes a little bit too far." A conferee had testified that, often, officers do not know who was driving when people at the scene refuse to take responsibility.

Hospital officials also said there needed to be legal and safety protections for workers who would have to draw blood. Medical people have been working with law enforcement representatives to come up with language for protecting those who draw blood from a driver or passenger who refuses to co-operate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said he wanted interested parties to work together and come up with a proposal soon.

O'Neal didn't set a deadline but said: "I do want to work the bill. I just think it's important that we get it right." I agree.

- Marti Crow is a state representative from Leavenworth.

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