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Time's Running Out for State Legislature to Allow "No-Refusal" DWI Blood Draw

The Texas Senate yesterday refused to send to Governor Rick Perry a bill that included an amendment that would allow law enforcement officers to draw blood from folks suspected of driving under the influence -- otherwise known as the no-refusal initiative for which the Dallas Police Department is pushing. Instead, the Senate is calling for a meeting with members of the House to discuss and learn more about the four amendments the House tacked on to Senator John Carona's original SB 328, which deals with driving a car or boat while drunk. The bill originally advocated by the Dallas County District Attorney's office was state Rep. Allen Vaught's HB 1354, which was left hanging in a subcommittee last month.

A spokesman for Carona refuses to say just yet which amendments had rubbed the Senate the wrong way. "Those are all subject to negotiation and discussion among the members, so not just yet," Steven Polunsky tells Unfair Park.

The Senate has already decided who it will send to discuss the amendments with House representatives: Carona, Kirk Watson, Robert Nichols, Eliot Shapleigh and Judith Zaffirini. The House has yet to respond to the Senate's request. But time is ticking away, as the June 1 deadline is fast approaching, and if the House declines the confab invite, the bill will die. Polunsky doesn't think it will come to that: "We have every expectation that they will appoint conferees, and we'll be able to discuss out the differences."

Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief Nancy Kirkpatrick and Mike Ware, chief of the Special Fields Bureau in Craig Watkins's office, separately told Unfair Park earlier this week they've heard from sources in Austin that their particular amendment was being viewed "favorably."

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Watkins told us back in March he could not understand why anyone had a problem with this program. After all, he insisted, demanding a suspect's blood as evidence in a DWI case is the same as collecting evidence in any crime.

"You can't deny us searching your apartment, basically gathering evidence from you, you can't deny the law from doing that," he said. "That's why you have a judge and you have to show probable cause that allows us to go in, even if it was not a DWI. For example, if a person was raped, you can go in and get a search warrant for a person's DNA. It allows you to take that person's DNA to compare it to see if that person committed the crime. It's no different than that. I don't understand people think this is a stretch or we're violating the Constitution. The Constitution clearly allows us to do this."

The program appears to have originated in Maricopa County, Arizona, in the late 1990s. Use of the program is sweeping across Texas, and also popping up in Michigan, Oregon, Utah, California, Nevada and Florida.

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