14 April 2006

The perks of living in the Bible Belt

In late March, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage got the funding to hire 100 more officers. These guys needed something to do, to they were sent out, undercover, to bars in Dallas, and apparently around the state. They would arrest intoxicated persons to prevent them from driving home. They even went into hotel bars, where patrons only have to operate an elevator, and arrested folks.

Naturally, this set off a firestorm of controversy.

This does seem a bit counterintuiative. The TABC licenses bars, and goes to bars to arrest people. Can anyone say "Speed Trap?"

However, let's lay out the law and see where we get. It Texas you are legally intoxicated at .08% blood alcohol level. If I can believe this chart, If I have 3-4 beers in a hour (which is not to difficult to do), my BAL will be at .08%. At this point, I cannot drive. But there is a charge of Public Intoxication, or PI, and it also kicks in at .08%. That means, walking home from the bar with BAL of .08% is a violation of the law. A bar is a public place, right? That's why you can't smoke there. Therefore, have a BAL of .08% in a bar is public intoxication. If a server provides an alcoholic beverage to a person that any reasonable person would beleive is intoxicated, they are committing a crime. A BAL of .08% is the legal cutoff point. Think you're safe at home? Nope. If you are standing in your front yard and a police officer determines you are intoxicated he may arrest you. (In practice, though, you have to be obnoxious to attract a policeman's attention. And he still has the discretion not to arrest you. If you start to fight the nice man with a gun, your butt is going to jail.) The only place you can get your BAL above .08% and not be guilty of PI is inside your home.

So the TABC is working within the law. The problem is, it's scaring the tourists. Convention and Visitors Bureaus around the state are complaining that this will reduce tourism, and rightly so. The owners of Dallas Night Club in Austin have sued the TABC charging them with intent to close them down. Not to mention that practically every blog on the Web has been mention this program.

The wheels of politics may grind slow, but they do grind. The legislature will investigate the stings, and the TABC has suspended the operation. The operation the legislature gave them the money to start. Finally, the legislature seems to realize that they work for the people of the State of Texas, and are not our parents.

Drinking and driving is bad. Drinking and walking home shouldn't be a crime. Drinking more than 4 beers in a bar shouldn't be a crime. Going to a local festival and having a few beers shouldn't be a crime. But we have to realize, we live in one of the notches in the Bible Belt. And the Religious Right are not as quick to "Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged" as Jesus was. They'd rather tuck a Bible under their arm, hop on a soapbox and denounce the actions of others. This isn't the end. It's just a pause.

posted by hiikeeba at 07:45


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant post! You nailed this completely. They might as well bring back prohibition. Those people that were arrested had no legitimate expectation of being arrested. The state tried to take a purely fascist approach to sending a message by enforcing a law of which no one was really aware. They wanted to send a message. They succeeded. Unfortunately, the message was: Don't Come to Texas. Honestly, give the proud heritage of independence and individuality of your state I was really surprised by the whole stupid thing.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Matt Bramanti said...

Actually, PI doesn't kick in at .08%. That's part of the problem. It's left up to the discretion of the officer.

Some agents watch someone and just count the number of drinks. Once it gets above their arbitrary limit, that's PI. Some agents just look at people and decide how drunk they are. There's no objective standard, and so there's not consistent enforcement.

2:42 PM  
Blogger hiikeeba said...

I didn't know that PI wouldn't kick in at .08%. I would imagine, though, that when prosecuting a PI, the BAL is entered in as evidence. Any one reading this know if this is the case?

But yes, PI is up to the discretion of the officer. I suspect that an officer who makes his living ticketing and arresting drunks tends to ticket and arrest more people than your average police officer.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am getting into this homebrew thing at just the right time. It seems to me that it is becoming all but impossible to enjoy a few beers in public.

1:26 PM  
Blogger prying1 said...

I don't thik it is a Bible Belt issue. It sounds to my like it is some gumment offishells figgerin' out a way to get more money.

I asked people at church what they thought of it and they didn't think it right.

- Ok, here is some homework for you. - Maybe next weekend you can stand outside a couple of local churches (you don't have to go in) and take a poll. Try to word the question so it is not leading...

10:57 PM  

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