Battle looming over ‘zero tolerance’ drug DUI bill

Sparks might fly as lawmakers later this month hear a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable trace of marijuana or other illegal drugs in the blood, regardless of the driver’s actual impairment.

Marijuana advocates say this “zero tolerance” bill, to be heard April 23 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, overlooks the fact that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana compounds in the blood.

Unlike alcohol, THC blood levels have no direct relation to the actual dosage consumed or active in the body, they say. Instead, levels spike right after smoking but then decline quickly to lower levels within an hour or so regardless of dosage, and can remain in the blood anywhere from eight to 12 hours in occasional users and six days or more in regular users – including those who use it medicinally – long after any impairment has faded.

“In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “The science is clear that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana in the blood.”

But SB 289’s author, state Sen. Lou Correa, says California lacks any threshold for judging drugged driving.

“Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is dangerous and cannot be tolerated,” Correa, D-Santa Ana, said in a news release when he introduced the bill in February. “Creating a zero tolerance drugged driving policy will equip law enforcement with the tools needed to keep our communities and roads safe.”

In most states, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if the state proves the driver was actually impaired at the time of arrest. But under SB 289, California would join 17 other states which have made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the driver’s blood contains any detectable amount of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs.

Correa’s news release noted the bill excludes medicine used with a valid prescription issued by a licensed health care practitioner. Californians voted in 1996 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it remains on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act – the most restrictive category for controlled substances, encompassing drugs defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Correa’s bill is co-sponsored by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Narcotics Officers Association and International Faith Based Coalition.


Contra Costa gets federal domestic violence grant

Contra Costa County is among 12 U.S. counties and cities chosen to receive a new federal grant aimed at reducing domestic violence homicides by focusing on victims most at risk and abusers most likely to be lethal.

The money – $2.3 million in total, ranging from $101,658 to $200,000 per site – is part of the Justice Department’s new Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative, administered by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. After a one-year assessment phase, up to six of these 12 sites will be chosen to continue a three-year implementation phase.

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the grants Wednesday in Rockville, Md.

“Every single day in America, three women die at the hands of their boyfriend, or their husband, or their ex-husband,” Biden said in a news release. “Many of these women have been threatened or severely abused in the past. We know what risk factors put someone in greater danger of being killed by the person they love – and that also means we have the opportunity to step in and try to prevent these murders. That’s why these grants are so important. They’ll help stop violence before it turns deadly.”

The grant program, which aims to help state and local jurisdictions reduce domestic violence homicides by identifying potential victims and monitoring high-risk offenders, is modeled after programs in Massachusetts and Maryland where coordinated teams of law enforcement, prosecutors, health professionals and victims’ services significantly reduced the domestic violence homicide rate.

The new program is based on an assessment tool that researchers have identified that can be used to reliably recognize women who may be in fatally abusive relationships. Attempted strangulation, threats with weapons, sexual assault and obsessively jealous and controlling behavior are among the markers of particularly lethal abusers. Once at-risk victims are identified, law enforcement, prosecutors, courts and service providers can take action to protect them and their families.

The other 11 demonstration sites are Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; Rockdale County, Ga.; Winnebago County, Ill.; Boston; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Westchester County, N.Y.; Pitt County, N.C.; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; North Charleston, S.C.; and Rutland, Vt.


House Dems step up their gun-violence dialogue

House Democrats will stepping up the dialogue next week on how best to prevent gun violence.

Mike ThompsonRep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, a combat veteran and avid hunter whom House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tapped last month to head up a gun-violence task force, held three town hall meetings on the topic this past week in Napa, Vallejo and Santa Rosa. On Monday, Thompson will join U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Center for American Progress President and CEO Neera Tanden for a CAP-sponsored forum in Washington, D.C., on legislation and policies to reduce gun violence.

Pelosi and Thompson, along with Democratic Steering and Policy Committee co-chairs Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Rob Andrews, D-N.J., will hold a hearing next Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill entitled “Gun Violence Prevention: A Call to Action.” Among those scheduled to take part are Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; Chaska, Minn., police chief Scott Knight, the former chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Firearms Committee; Emily Nottingham, whose son, Gabe Zimmerman, was slain in the 2011 assassination attempt upon Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz.; and Newtown, Conn., schools superintendent Janet Robinson.

Vice President Joe Biden convened a series of meetings this past week on curbing gun violence, and DeLauro was joined today by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and two other lawmakers in urging Biden to push for more firearms research by the Health and Human Services Department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1997 have been under a restriction that effectively keeps it from conducting any research or analysis related to gun violence, they wrote.

“We conduct evidence-based research into car crashes, drowning, poisoning, child abuse, and all other causes of accidents and injuries,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden. “We should be doing the same kind of research in order to determine how best to prevent firearm injuries and save lives. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to include a proposal recommending the end of this appropriations restriction and enhanced research on gun-related violence as part of your Task Force’s upcoming recommendations.”

Read the full text of the lawmakers’ letter, after the jump…
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Skinner brings back bill to control ammo sales

A Bay Area lawmaker is re-introducing a bill that would tighten up on ammunition sales, which aren’t tracked by current law.

“In California, it’s harder to get some cold medicines than ammunition,” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said in a news release, referring to the state’s law restricting sales of pseudoephedrine, which can be used as a precursor for making methamphetamine. “Something has to change.”

Skinner this past summer authored AB 2512, which would have required large ammunition purchases to be reported to local law enforcement. The bill was inspired by July’s shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

Her bill also sought to close a loophole in the assault weapons law allowing individuals to have high-capacity magazines, like those found on the man who killed 26 people last Friday in Newtown, Conn. But the legislation, introduced by gutting and amending an already-existing bill, came too late in the year to have any hearings before the session ended.

Her new bill would require all ammunition purchasers to show their IDs; require all ammunition sales to be reported to the state Department of Justice; require all ammunition sellers to be licensed and undergo a background check; and
ban kits to convert ammunition clips into high-capacity magazines.

Skinner had told me last week – two days before the Newtown massacre – that she had been meeting with law enforcement and other stakeholders to develop a revised version of the bill.

“Among the most shocking details from the shooting massacre in Colorado is the undetected stockpiling of ammunition and weapons by the alleged shooter. In Newtown, the shooter had hundreds of unspent rounds. While incidents like Aurora and Newtown may be rare, we can’t let ammunition stockpiling go unnoticed,” Skinner said today. “Gun violence is an ongoing, yet unnecessary threat in communities throughout California. As lawmakers, we need to do everything we can to stop this trend.”


Boxer pitches grants, Guardsmen for safer schools

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer today introduced two new bills that she said will strengthen safety at schools by giving state and local officials new resources and tools to help them secure their campuses and protect students.

Barbara Boxer“When our children and our grandchildren are at school, we must have faith that they are safe,” Boxer, D-Calif., said in a news release. “This legislation will help state and local officials protect our children by utilizing all of the law enforcement tools at our disposal.”

One bill – the School Safety Enhancements Act – would strengthen and expand the Justice Department’s existing COPS Secure Our Schools grants program to provide schools with more resources to install tip lines, surveillance equipment, secured entrances and other important safety measures.

The program currently requires a 50 percent local match, but Boxer’s bill would let the Justice Department reduce the local share to 20 percent for schools with limited resources. The bill also creates a joint task force between the Justice Department and the Department of Education to develop new school safety guidelines, and would increase the Secure Our Schools authorization from $30 million to $50 million.

Boxer’s second bill – the Save Our Schools (SOS) Act – would let the federal government reimburse governors who want to use National Guard troops to help ensure that our nation’s schools are safe.

It’s modeled after a successful National Guard program – in place since 1989 – that lets governors use Guardsmen to assist with law enforcement efforts related to drug interdiction activities. Under the new program, Guard troops could help support local law enforcement agencies to ensure schools are safe. The National Guard has said it is “particularly well suited for domestic law enforcement support missions” because it is “located in over 3,000 local communities throughout the nation, readily accessible, routinely exercised with local first responders, and experienced in supporting neighboring communities.”

Boxer said bills like this are only part of a comprehensive response to Friday’s massacre at a Connecticut elementary school; she also wants new gun control laws, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as controls to ensure that the mentally ill can’t buy guns.


State took 2,000 guns from illegal owners in 2012

California may have a sizeable leg up on other states in taking guns away from mentally ill people who are barred by law from owning them.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris said Tuesday that more than 2,000 firearms were seized in 2012 from people in California who were legally barred from possessing them, including mentally unstable people and those with active restraining orders. She noted the state has clear laws determining who can and can’t possess firearms based on their threat to public safety.

“Enforcing those laws is crucial because we have seen the terrible tragedies that occur when guns are in the wrong hands,” she said, referring to a mentally ill gunman’s spree Friday at a Connecticut elementary school that claimed 26 lives, including 20 children.

Harris said 33 state Department of Justice agents used its Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) database to identify convicted felons, people with active restraining orders, people determined to be mentally unstable and others barred from owning guns. Agents seized 2,033 firearms, 117,000 rounds of ammunition, and 11,072 illegal high-capacity magazines from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, with most of the firearms seized during two six-week sweeps.

The first statewide sweep targeted people barred from gun ownership because of mental health issues, and the second focused on people with legally registered assault weapons who were later prohibited from owning them.

Harris last year sponsored SB 819, carried by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, to increase funding for the APPS program through the use of existing regulatory fees collected by gun dealers; the new law took effect at the start of this year.

The APPS database cross-references people who legally bought handguns and registered assault weapons since 1996 with people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms. APPS was launched in November 2006, and the first statewide sweep was conducted in 2007. California is the nation’s first and only state to have created such a database.