CHARLESTON - The Ohio County Substance Abuse Coalition is pleased West Virginia lawmakers will consider legislation equating "drugged driving" with drunk driving under state law.
During his State of the State address, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed clarifying current statutes to give law enforcement officers "implied consent upon reasonable cause" to pull over drivers suspected of being under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. Senate Bill 181 - introduced by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, on behalf of Tomblin - adds references to "controlled substance and drug content" to current driving under the influence laws in West Virginia.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and must pass the Judiciary Committee before being considered for passage by the full Senate.
Members of the Ohio County Substance Abuse Coalition have been especially concerned about the number of people members believe are driving while under the influence of drugs. They have been seeking to educate local lawmakers about the issue, said Martha Polinsky, project coordinator. Coalition members also have been speaking out at the governor's Substance Abuse Task Force meetings held around the state.
"We definitely are pretty thrilled about it," Polinsky said of the legislation. "We don't lobby ... but we work with coalition members in the community, and this was something they were interested in pursuing."
The coalition consists of about 35 members representing local schools, law enforcement, business, media, health care, parent and youth groups and other social services agencies, Polinsky noted. Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger, Ohio County Schools Superintendent Dianna Vargo and Ohio County Health Officer Dr. William Mercer all are members.
Lori Garrett-Bumba, program director for the Ohio County Substance Abuse Coalition, termed substance abuse a "pretty serious problem" in West Virginia. She noted the state has consistently been among those posting the highest overdose rates annually.