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Bill offers zero tolerance for bus drivers with alcohol

A Senate committee gave unanimous approval Friday to a bill that would prohibit school bus drivers from having any alcohol in their bodies — or in their possession.

Senators questioned whether the language in the bill, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge County, actually would prohibit transporting children after just one drink. They decided it did.

Cline said the need for the bill arose when a bus driver in the Harrisonburg area had a drink or two at about lunchtime. An adult noticed him driving the bus on the wrong route. There was no accident and no one was hurt, but the adult smelled alcohol on the driver’s breath.

Police were called, and the driver was charged with child endangerment.

However, the driver blew only a 0.03 on the breath test — just below the 0.04 that would have made the driver guilty under the standard for commercial drivers’ licenses, which school bus drivers must have.

Cline’s bill, HB1353, would make anyone “who possesses or consumes an alcoholic beverage while operating a school bus … while transporting children … guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor,” punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.

The Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services voted 15-0 to send the bill to the Senate floor. It already has been approved by the House of Delegates.

Sen. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, asked whether the bill’s language about “possesses or consumes” would apply to a driver who had a drink before boarding the bus and didn’t carry the alcohol on board.

Both Cline and Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, explained that if a person has alcohol in his system, the law deems that to be “constructive possession” of alcohol.

Stuart said it didn’t matter whether the alcohol was consumed two or three hours earlier.

A person who had a drink with dinner the night before wouldn’t still have alcohol in his or her system, Stuart said, but a person on a binge and drinking at 4 a.m. would still have alcohol in their system the next morning.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to protect children from,” Stuart said.

“I’m surprised the law doesn’t already do that,” said Sen. Linda Puller, D-Fairfax, chairwoman of the committee.

source: Lynchburg News Advance

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