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Opening Arguments

Stagger in peace

This is an interesting legislative initiative that hasn't gotten much attention:

INDIANAPOLIS — For decades in Indiana, if you were drunk while walking down the street or riding as a passenger in a car, you could be arrested for public intoxication.

That will soon change, if Gov. Mitch Daniels signs Senate Bill 97 into law.

Legislation passed by the Indiana General Assembly this week requires a person to be disruptive or dangerous, as well as drunk, before they could be arrested and charged with public intoxication.

The bill was sponsored by lawmakers in response to a 2011 Indiana Supreme Court decision. The case involved an Indianapolis woman who was charged with public intoxication after she handed her keys over to a sober “designated driver” because she was too drunk to drive her own car.

She was arrested after a police officer pulled over the car she was riding in as a passenger and discovered the sober driver didn’t have a valid driver’s license. The female passenger told the officer she couldn’t drive because she’d been drinking.

The state’s high court upheld her conviction, and in doing so, sparked a small uproar. Critics feared the ruling would undermine admonishments from public safety advocates who urge people not to drink and drive.

 This is in line with the bill that has gotten a little more press -- giving people amnesty for things like underage drinking or public intoxication if they seek medical help for someone who is intoxicated. Safety first, then worry about the rules. This isn't exactly earth-shattering news -- people who drive drunk are arrested because they're dangerous, and this approach would treat public intoxication the same way, an approach already taken by 45 other states.

As someone remarks in the story, if all you want to do is pick up a bunch of people in a public place in a state of intoxication, "that could be a crowd of Colts' fans after a game." Happy drunks of the world, rejoice. Only the mean drunks will feel the heat.