Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bill seeks drug tests for drivers in wrecks

January 23, 2008

People involved in serious traffic accidents would have to submit to drug tests under a bill considered Tuesday by a House committee.

"We need to do it to collect evidence," said Dennis Bixby, whose daughter, Amanda, 19, was killed in a wreck last year. "We need to do it because it's the right thing to do," he told the House Judiciary Committee.

House Bill 2617 would require drug testing for people, both drivers and passengers, involved in serious injury accidents.

Currently, law enforcement officials can order a test if they have reasonable grounds to suspect drug use. Under the proposed law, drug testing would be mandatory, without the need of having a presumption of a drug violation.

Bixby and his wife, Denise, of Tonganoxie, said the law is needed because in their daughter's case, the man who caused the accident was not tested for drugs. Amanda Bixby was killed Feb. 14, 2007, on U.S. Highway 24-40 just west of Basehor in a collision caused when a vehicle driven by Ricardo Flores ran a stop sign. The accident also resulted in injuries to members of the Bill Nichols family of Basehor.

Flores eventually pleaded no contest to failure to yield at a stop sign, speeding and driving without a valid license. He was fined and placed on six months' probation.

Denise Bixby said there are many unanswered questions about the wreck.

"Drug testing could have answered some of our questions," she said.

Committee Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said a change in the law was needed.

"I think we're on the right track here," O'Neal said.

He said he hoped the committee could work on the bill in the next couple of weeks. "This is going to take some work," he said.

The major issue is whether it is constitutional to force someone to submit to a blood or urine test if there is no probable cause to suspect them of a crime.

Ed Klump, speaking for the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, said the group supported the measure, but there were many parts of it that needed additional changes.

One of those, he said, is that the definition of "serious injury" must be nailed down so law officers aren't ordering drug tests in simple fender benders where someone may want to be transported to the hospital as a safety precaution.

State Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, and state Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, appeared on behalf of the Bixbys.

Wilk said that currently there are too many obstacles blocking drug testing at accidents.

"The balance is tipped the wrong way now," Wilk said.

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