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Minnehaha County Commissioner Trying To Stop Drunk Driving

January 7, 2014, 6:06 PM by Leland Steva

Minnehaha County Commissioner Trying To Stop Drunk Driving

With a string of recent drunk driving arrests, one Minnehaha County Commissioner is calling for big changes in the way drunk drivers are dealt with.

Jeff Barth met the father of a 25-year-old woman who was killed by a drunk driver last summer, but he didn't feel the call to do anything to address the issue until the death of a Sioux Falls mother on New Year's Day. Barth says he can't stay silent on the issue any longer.

"More people are going to die unless we do more," Minnehaha County Commissioner Jeff Barth said.

Barth met with the family of Megan Spindler after the 25-year-old woman was killed by a drunk driver in July. What he learned after speaking with them, he says, might have prevented the death of Tanya Sanchez on New Year's Day.

"I had all winter coming up to last week to do something more after Megan was killed. I didn't do it," Barth said.

But Barth isn't staying quiet on the issue any longer. Instead, he stood in front of his peers at Tuesday's Minnehaha County Commissioners meeting, calling for harsher drunk driving laws he thinks could prevent future deaths on the road.

"Immediately suspend every license of a person arrested for drunk driving. We need to impound and seize the vehicles of anyone driving under the influence. We need to have Dram Shop liability, social host liability. The victims should be able to sue the people who provided extra alcohol to those who are already intoxicated," Barth said.

He would like to increase the tax on alcohol sales in the county to 10-percent, giving half the revenue to the state. Barth estimates the county's share of the tax hike would be about $2.5 million.  According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, five percent of adults drink 48 percent of all liquor. Increase the alcohol tax, he says, and it could possibly reduce property and sales tax.

"Reduce taxes on people that don't drink and to make those that do cost us the most, pay the most," Barth said.

Ultimately, his proposal is not about revenue; Barth says it's about saving lives.

"Vehicular homicide is truly just homicide by another name, and I'm sick of it," Barth said.

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