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Changes to drunk driving and open container laws this week


Photo by owlpacino

Governor Terry Branstad signed legislation Monday that moves Iowa’s OWI enforcement process away from incarceration, and the Iowa City Council reduced open container regulations for special events.

Drinking in the streets in Iowa City

The Iowa City Council unanimously voted Tuesday, April 18 to allow Iowa Citians to leave a business with an alcoholic beverage. This is only legal if the drink is being carried from one licensed premises to another. This change was accomplished by amending Title 4, Chapter 5, Section 5 of the Iowa City code.

The council agenda specifically mentioned the Downtown Block Party planned for June, during which time the street and sidewalk in the specified area will be a licensed premises, as an example of the amendment’s goal of facilitating community events.

Sobriety instead of jail for some OWIs

The Iowa Sobriety and Drug Monitoring Program Act will grant some OWI offenders the option to stay sober 24/7, and prove it with a test every 12 hours, instead of going to jail. Participants in this program will report to a central location twice daily to be tested, or if they prove they face barriers to that plan, they can be given a self-testing device. The participant must pay for the cost of testing, and skipped or failed tests may result in 24 hours in jail and/or loss of temporary restricted license, which disqualifies them from continuing the program until it’s re-instated.

Those who may qualify include repeat offenders and those who test over .15 blood alcohol content, refuse to be tested, or cause property damage or personal injury in an accident related to their OWI. The act instructs judges to consider this the preferred program over jail for those who qualify, and notes that the court may require it as a condition of bond, pretrial release, sentence, probation or parole. Offenders not assigned to the program can still apply to participate.

Counties and other local jurisdictions have the option of whether to implement this program. If they choose to do so they must apply for a permit from the Department of Public Safety and show that their system is evidence-based and adequate to comply with the law. The act also calls for the creation of a statewide data management system to track the program, and a review of it’s effectiveness in 2021.

The only legislators who voted against this bill were Rep. Jarad Klein (R-Keota), Rep. Larry Sheets (R-Moulton) and Rep. Louie Zumbach (R-Coggon). There were seven legislators absent or abstaining.


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