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Rep. Tom Emmer

, Star Tribune

Sponsor of DWI change has 2-ticket DWI record

  • Article by: JIM FOTI
  • Star Tribune
  • March 29, 2009 - 11:50 PM

In the era of the Internet, a mistake you made nearly 20 years ago may be just a click away from publicity.

That's what state Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, was reminded over the weekend when a former staffer for Democrat Al Franken used a personal blog to post court records of DWI charges filed against Emmer in 1991. The blogger, Dusty Trice, said he had read about a legislative bill that would delay revocation of licenses for suspected drunken drivers -- a measure sponsored by Emmer.

Trice said Sunday that he often looks through public records and meant "absolutely no malice toward Representative Emmer." His post, in fact, did not criticize Emmer, even though Trice's blog describes itself as "the kind that attacks Republicans."

Emmer, who was 30 at the time, pleaded guilty to careless driving, while two drunken-driving charges and a license-plate charge were dropped. He also received a DWI-related ticket in 1981, when he was 20.

Emmer said Sunday that he'd learned from the mistakes. "We all come to the Legislature with life experiences, but it has nothing to do with this bill," he said. "This is a good bill."

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, is chairman of the House committee on crime victims and criminal records, one of two panels that endorsed Emmer's bill last week. Lesch said Sunday that he wasn't aware of Emmer's driving record and would have voted for the measure either way.

"When I look at the bill, I'm going to look at the bill independent of any record from the author, especially if it's from 1991," Lesch said. The bill's merits lie in its efforts to address the shortfalls in the judicial system, he said.

Currently, suspected drunken drivers face revocation before they go to court. The minimums are 90 days for failing a sobriety test and a year for refusing a test. Under Emmer's proposal, drivers would be subject to revocations of at least 30 and 60 days for failing or refusing tests, but only after they're convicted or plead guilty.

"I think some have suggested that it lessens penalties. ... It doesn't at all," Emmer said, noting that the idea was brought to him by municipal prosecutors. He also said that revocations under the current law don't in fact happen immediately.

Emmer and other supporters say the law drives up costs by requiring separate hearings for the civil revocation and for the criminal DWI case. Budget cuts have caused some courts to give drivers their licenses back rather than fight lawsuits over the revocations.

Opponents of the change include Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Stephen Simon, the head of the state's DWI task force, who say the measure would reduce the deterring effect of the implied-consent law, which gives police the authority to give sobriety tests. They're planning to continue to fight the bill.

Emmer will be hard at work as well, though he said Sunday there's a new item on his to-do list: "Now I get to explain [this] to my kids."

Jim Foti • 612-673-4491

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