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Back to Archives | Back to May 2004 Contents 

Legislative Alert

2003 State Legislative Report Now Available

By Jennifer Boyter, IACP Legislative Analyst

The 2003 IACP State Legislative Report is now available on the IACP Web site ( This update on state legislative issues was prepared to provide IACP members with a review of the major law enforcement-related legislative initiatives that were considered in each state.

Summaries of all 50 state legislative sessions are now available in PDF format. You can view the entire report (in PDF) or by individual state.

Key Legislative Issues
The following is a brief overview of the action taken on some of the major issues confronting law enforcement:

DNA: Measures to expand the list of offenders who must submit DNA samples to authorities were considered in numerous states. Thirty-one states have now enacted laws to require DNA samples from all convicted felons. This includes nine states that passed such laws this year: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

The new Louisiana law also requires collection from people arrested for violent or sexual crimes. The state now joins Virginia as the only states that require DNA samples from those who are arrested for certain crimes. Similar legislation also passed the New York Senate and Colorado Senate.

Drunk Driving: In 2003, state legislatures continued to consider legislation to lower the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) standard for drunken driving from 0.10 to 0.08. Of the 18 states that considered such legislation, 14 states enacted the lower standard: Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

There now are 46 states at 0.08, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, and West Virginia all defeated 0.08 bills this session.

Driving this large number of bills is a federal government mandate for tougher DWI legislation. In 2000 President Clinton signed into law a measure that establishes a national 0.08 percent BAC standard for drunken driving. States that fail to comply with the national standard lost 2 percent of their federal highway grants starting in fiscal year 2004. That penalty increases to 5 percent in fiscal 2005, 6 percent in fiscal 2006, and 8 percent in fiscal 2007. Any state that adopts the new standard by 2007 will be permitted to recover any previously forfeited highway funds. Consequently, the remaining states without the lower standard will continue to debate legislation to lower the standard in order to avoid the financial penalties.

Concealed Weapons: Several state legislatures held high-profile debates on concealed weapons. The legislatures in Missouri, New Mexico, and Ohio passed legislation to allow their citizens to carry concealed weapons. Missouri lawmakers did so over the wishes of the governor, overriding his veto.

With the passage of the legislation in these states, just four states currently prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons: Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Several of these states considered legislation to permit such weapons. The Wisconsin legislature passed a bill to allow qualified residents to carry concealed weapons, but it was vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle. While the state senate voted to override the governor's veto, the House vote fell one vote short, allowing the veto to stand.

In addition, Colorado and Minnesota enacted legislation that moves their states from discretionary CCW laws, often referred to as a "may-issue" system, to the more lenient "shall-issue" system.

Bias-Based Policing: Measures dealing with alleged biased policing by law enforcement officers continue to be considered by state legislatures.

Illinois passed a bill to require a four-year study during which police around the state will have to record the race and gender of people they pull over. The South Carolina Senate passed a similar bill. Montana and Arkansas passed laws that prohibit bias-based policing and require law enforcement agencies to adopt a detailed written policy that clearly defines the elements of the practice and prohibits it.

The New Jersey legislature passed a bill that makes racial profiling by public officials a criminal offense. It creates the crime of official deprivation of civil rights, making it illegal for law enforcement officers to use race, color, religion, ethnicity, handicap, gender, age, or sexual orientation to discriminate against any individual. The penalties are up to five years in prison and $15,000 in fines. If a profiling incident involves an assault or death, the offender will face stiffer penalties.

Medical Marijuana: The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that relaxes criminal punishment for seriously ill people who use marijuana to relieve pain and other symptoms The Vermont Senate passed a bill to allow people with serious illnesses to legally possess and use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms. The Connecticut House and New Mexico House also narrowly defeated similar legislation.

Senate to Consider Victims' Rights Amendment
In late April, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to consider a bill that would amend the Constitution to specify certain rights for crime victims. The sponsors of the bill, Senators Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said that they have a commitment from Senate leaders to consider the bill beginning April 23, which will coincide with Crime Victims Month.

The victims' rights amendment (S. J. Res. 1) would require that crime victims or their representatives receive advance notification of judicial proceedings and parole hearings. The amendment would also give victims or their representatives the right to be heard at public release, plea sentencing, and other proceedings and would require judicial officials to consider victims' safety when deciding the fate of defendants.

Although the proposed amendment is expected to receive a majority vote in the Senate, it appears unlikely to garner the two-thirds majority required. The Senate considered, but failed to pass, a similar bill in 2000.


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 5, May 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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