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Drunk-driving checkpoint bill going nowhere

Curt Woodward Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire suffered her first major defeat of the 2008 Legislature on Thursday when her push for drunken driving checkpoints died without enough support from lawmakers.

Gregoire’s proposal would have let police stop all vehicles on certain stretches of road to check for drunken drivers, after getting a judge’s approval. Gregoire said it could save about 50 lives a year, based on nearly 40 other states that have similar programs.

Gregoire, who is running for a second term this fall against Republican Dino Rossi, heavily promoted the checkpoint plan at the Capitol, lobbying for it in her State of the State speech and sending high-powered supporters to its public hearing.

But the plan encountered strong, bipartisan resistance in the Legislature.

Critics said the Washington constitution’s privacy protections, which are stronger than federal law, prohibit police searches without a greater degree of suspicion.

It never came up for a vote, even though House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Pat Lantz, D-Gig Harbor, was its chief sponsor. On Thursday, Lantz and the Gregoire administration declared the plan dead.

Lantz described resistance among other lawmakers as “immense” and questioned whether the Legislature’s rhetoric about ending drunken driving deaths was entirely genuine.

“Everyone’s interest in stopping the carnage on our highways is not as deeply rooted as I thought,” Lantz said.

Marty Brown, Gregoire’s legislative chief, said the Democratic governor remains committed to the program and will bring it back to lawmakers if re-elected. Lantz, however, was less optimistic.

“I think it will be many a year before anybody tries this again,” she said.

Skeptics like Rep. Mark Ericks, D-Bothell, said they never got a good explanation about how the checkpoint plan could survive a legal test under the state constitution’s strong privacy protections.

“I can’t imagine how it could possibly meet constitutional muster, because our state is a little more strict,” said Ericks, a former police chief.

Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, said he heard loud and clear from constituents that the police roadblocks weren’t a good idea. He agreed.

“To me, this is a step away from letting the police stop us on the streets and search our pockets and our backpacks,” Kirby said.

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