Skirting sobriety is meant to be impossible in South Dakota.
Throughout the state, drunken driving offenders must stand before law enforcement and technicians twice a day to prove they are clean on South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program.
From urine analysis to breath tests, the program tests offenders regularly to encourage .000 results; otherwise, prepare to deal with the legal repercussions for violating bond, sentencing, parole or probation.
A Senate bill brought on behalf of South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley this legislative session could add one more tool to hold offenders accountable for their sobriety.
SB33 would integrate ignition interlock devices into the 24/7 program, starting first with a pilot program in Lincoln County in eastern South Dakota, according to Jackley.
Developed in 2005 by Attorney General Larry Long, the 24/7 program requires offenders to cut their alcohol and drug use with extensive monitoring while offering an alternative to jail or prison. Participants are tested with twice-daily portable breath tests, secure continuous remote alcohol monitors (commonly referred to as a SCRAM bracelet), drug patches and urine analysis. The program went statewide in 2007.
"The 24/7 Sobriety Program is a cost-effective alternative for those offenders that are serious about choosing sobriety, their families and gainful employment over incarceration," Jackley said.
Ignition interlocks are devices, similar to a breath test, installed into vehicles that analyze a person's blood alcohol level. The driver must provide a clean breath sample before the vehicle will start, and it prompts the driver for subsequent samples during the trip.
"This will prevent them from getting in their vehicle and driving," said Art Mabry, 24/7 statewide program coordinator. "It's one more tool, and that's the way it should be viewed. It's not the answer to everything."
Waiting to be heard by the full state House of Representatives, the legislation passed through the Senate and the House Judiciary committee with only one vote in opposition.
The bill is scheduled to be heard today; all bills must receive final action by the end of Tuesday.
Jackley said South Dakota tried ignition interlock devices a few years ago, but the devices froze up in the state's cold temperatures, and their lack of video monitoring raised concerns about who actually provided the breath sample.
Ignition interlock companies assured the state those kinks are fixed, which is what the yearlong pilot program would evaluate.
"We want to make sure that the product works the way we're told it's going to work," Mabry said. "We're going to try it. We're going to do it gradually to make sure that's the case."
If the Legislature gives the green light on the pilot program, Mabry plans to have an ignition interlock device installed in his vehicle to understand the logistics and experience any problems.
"I can see firsthand exactly how it's working," Mabry said.
Outside of the about $60 total fees for installation and deactivation, an ignition interlock device's daily cost would be comparable to the SCRAM bracelet's $6-a-day fee, Mabry said.
The devices likely would monitor offenders who live in more remote areas of the state or travel often, Mabry said.
Currently, South Dakota and Alabama are the only states that do not have laws implementing the use of ignition interlock devices, according to Lila Doud, president of Rapid City's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
She spoke on behalf of the legislation during committee hearings. The national organization supports the mandatory use of the devices in all driving-under-the-influence cases. SB33 would just make it an option.
Doud pointed out that taking away a driver's license does not stop an offender from drinking and driving, but the device itself keeps the vehicle from starting in the first place.
She hoped for the success of the legislation and the pilot program.
"We're hoping that it works there because we would like to see the ignition interlock mandatory," Doud said. "It lets them continue to work and continue to drive, but they can't drink."
SB33 does not stop at a new device; it also would make the entire statewide program -- including Mabry's salary -- funded by offenders, according to Jackley.
Testing prices could increase slightly if at all, Jackley said. Currently, offenders pay $1 per breath test, $5 per urinalysis and $6 per day for the SCRAM bracelet.
Pennington County's 24/7 program is already entirely funded by offenders, according to Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, who supports SB33.
"It's a very cost-effective way to provide supervision for them," Thom said. The county was one of the state's four pilot programs in 2005.
The program also saves taxpayers money by diverting people from jail, making it a cheaper alternative than losing a job for being incarcerated, Thom said.
"The goal is to keep people sober and employed," Thom said.
The county's 24/7 center, at 1000 Cambell St. in Rapid City, starts to fill up about 5:30 a.m. for morning breath tests, said Tessia Johnston, program manager for Pennington County.
Without a line, the entire testing process -- walk in, print and sign their name, and blow for 6 seconds during the test -- takes 45 seconds, Johnston said.
The center is open twice daily from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week to accommodate the morning and evening tests.
The county has a zero-tolerance policy for all testing, and if an offender fails a test, he is asked to wait until law enforcement shows up or probation and parole officers are contacted, Johnston said.
Not all participants are DUI offenders. Some are required to go through the program in connection to other offenses because of a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Child custody may be contingent on the successful completion of the program, Johnston said.
Although the program may not be foolproof, Johnston said, she and her staff hear success stories of how staying sober has changed the lives of the offenders and their family members.
Improving lives and hampering DUIs is the hope for the program, Thom said.
"There is a better quality of life for everyone involved," he said.