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Nebraska Passes Tougher Laws for DUI Offenders, Adds High-Tech Alcohol Monitor to New Penalties

Media Type: Press Release

LINCOLN, NB—Governor David Heinemen has signed a new get-tough bill that makes Nebraska’s laws governing drunk drivers — and in particular, the high-risk, repeat offenders — some of the toughest in the country.

Legislative Bill 925, introduced by Omaha Senator Mike Friend in January and signed by the Governor on April 13th, toughens criminal penalties for repeat DUI offenders, with particular emphasis on the creation of a new offense for criminals who drive with dangerously high blood alcohol concentrations 0.15 and above. According to the Nebraska Crime Commission, there are over 14,000 DUI arrests each year. And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 22% of the state’s crash costs and 17% of the state’s auto insurance premiums can be attributed to nearly 13,000 alcohol-related crashes.

Essentially, LB 925 will:

  • Increase the penalties for motor vehicle homicides caused by DUI
  • Require the imposition of a 15-year license revocation as a part of any felony sentence for operating a motor vehicle during suspension
  • Increase the penalties for offenders who leave the scene of property damage, injury and fatal crashes
  • Allow prosecutors to use blood samples obtained for medical purposes in prosecutions for manslaughter, DUI’s resulting in serious bodily injury and motor vehicle homicide
  • Require all convicted DUI offenders to receive a chemical-dependence assessment from a certified drug and alcohol counselor.

Most notably, the bill also includes language that gives Nebraska judges the ability to sentence DUI offenders to a new high-tech alcohol monitoring bracelet that is already in use in 36 states, including limited use in Nebraska. The system, known as SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), is strapped on an offender’s ankle, and actually tests their perspiration, at least once an hour, in order to check for alcohol consumption. At a cost of $12 a day, the majority of which is paid for by the offenders, the system is being used as a tool to assess and monitor DUI, domestic violence and other alcohol offenders sentenced to supervision in the community. Don White, vice president of field operations for Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the Denver-based company that manufactures the SCRAM System, says the product is being used throughout the U.S. as an alternative to incarceration, as well as a way to vastly improve public safety. “The problem for these repeat offenders is alcohol abuse,” says White. “If you can effectively monitor them for alcohol consumption while they’re going through community-based education and treatment programs, then you can begin to really tackle the alcohol abuse problem, and help stop the cycle of drinking and re-offending.” White cites the hourly testing protocol as the true differentiator of the technology. “Alcohol metabolizes so rapidly in the body that it’s virtually impossible to ‘catch’ someone who’s violating on a random alcohol testing program,” says White. “If you can’t test at least once very two to three hours, then you’re going to miss 90% of drinking events.”

Greg Erwin, president and CEO of Omaha-based Vigilnet Nebraska LLC, the state’s largest provider of SCRAM technology, says the new legislation tries to tackle the issue of convicted offenders who continue to drink and drive, despite graduated penalties or the fact that they may have a restricted license or a requirement to install ignition interlock on their vehicle. “SCRAM is just part of the DUI equation when it comes to the repeat offender,” says Erwin. “It’s one tool in a comprehensive program that may include educations, sanctions, treatment and ignition interlock. But the key is that now, the courts can control the issue at the root of the problem¾the alcohol problem. This technology means maximum accountability for both the offenders and the state.” LB 925, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), will also allow the state to qualify for additional federal highway safety funding. According to former US Senator David Karnes, who is a partner in Vigilnet, the state DMV could use the funds for education, prevention and increased enforcement. “Not only is this bill sound public policy, but the additional funding enhances the state’s ability to send a very strong message to hardcore offenders that their irresponsible behavior and destructive actions will no longer be tolerated,” said Karnes.

North Platte-based Counseling Center of Nebraska, which provides SCRAMto the 11th Judicial District, is confident that SCRAM can make a difference, particularly in Nebraska’s rural communities. “SCRAM Programs have proven to be very effective in other states with significant rural populations, such as Texas,” says Jerri Phillips, president and CEO of Counseling Center. “The challenge in rural communities is that it’s very difficult for those offenders to access treatment and testing programs. It’s also difficult for rural law enforcement to enforce those programs. The fact that the SCRAM testing is remote and automated, as well as continuous, makes it an ideal fit for our area,” says Phillips.

Karnes agrees, emphasizing that the new penalties will benefit everyone on the state’s roadways. “If they’re drinking, the court will know, and if they’re not, they’ll know that, too,” says Karnes. “But the bottom line is that if they’re not drinking, they’re definitely not drinking and driving. It’s that simple.”

About the SCRAM System

SCRAM is an ankle bracelet/modem combination, much like a home arrest system. But instead of tracking an offender’s location, SCRAM actually tests an offender’s sweat, every hour, 24 hours a day, in order to monitor for alcohol consumption. At least once each day, the offender is required to be within 30 feet of a modem, placed in their home or at their place of work. The bracelet uploads the test data to the modem, which in turn sends the results to SCRAMNET, a web-based server hosted by AMS. According to the company, they’ve monitored more than 17,000 offenders since the product first became available in June of 2003.

About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures the world’s only continuous alcohol testing system that uses Transdermal Analysis to measure for alcohol consumption. SCRAM fully automates the alcohol testing and reporting process, providing community corrections agencies and treatment organizations nationwide with the ability to classify offenders and assess compliance with sentencing requirements and treatment guidelines. Alcohol Monitoring Systems employs 50 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

About Vigilnet Nebraska, LLC
Established in 2005, Vigilnet Nebraska LLC is a licensed local service provider for Alcohol Monitoring Systems. Vigilnet’s program focuses on delivering continuous alcohol monitoring on the offender-pay model in order to help local jurisdictions cost-effectively maximize community safety and reduce the costs of repeat alcohol offenders. Vigilnet employees six people and is headquartered in Omaha.

About Counseling Center
Headquartered in North Platte, Counseling Center is a local service provider in cooperative agreement with Lifeline Recovery Services. Together they deliver integrated services to the surrounding communities and are staffed by Licensed Treatment Providers and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors. Their services include monitoring, screening, diagnostic evaluations assessments and treatment modalities.