Republican senators shied away Wednesday from using congressional authority to force states to lower the blood-alcohol-content limit for drunken driving, saying that decision should be left to states without interference from Washington.
At the same time, they warned against the federal government penalizing states that fail to accept a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation to lower the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, Politico reported
"I think it's a state issue," Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said, commenting on Tuesday's NTSB report, which also recommends Congress offer monetary incentives to states that tighten blood-alcohol limits and withhold funding from those that don't.
"That would be a state issue. That would be my belief," agreed Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.
"Legislatively, it's a state-rights issue," added Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. "I think states should make that decision, and I don't want Washington telling Wyoming what to do."
The NTSB said federal grants could help provide states "with additional resources to raise awareness of new [drunken driving] laws and to enforce them effectively."
But, Barrasso told Politico, tying either incentives or penalties to state decisions on alcohol limits amounts to "blackmail or bribery."
There is precedent for such a move, however.
The National Minimum Legal Drinking Act in 1984 penalized states — threatening the loss of 10 percent of their federal highway-construction money — if they didn't raise the drinking age to 21. President Bill Clinton in 2000 signed a law withholding highway funding to states that didn't lower the drunken-driving alcohol-content limit to the current 0.08 percent.
Some Democratic senators still agree with that approach.
"The federal government has a vital interest in road safety because so many of the people who use them come from other states," Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Politico, adding that the NTSB report "establishes a better safety standard, which, in turn, encourages states to do the same."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has also endorsed the NTSB recommendations.
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