Following up on a vote to seek national standards on legal drinking levels, the Senate Thursday moved to ban open alcohol containers in operating vehicles. But lawmakers rejected another measure to stop drive-through alcohol sales.
Senate leaders also reached agreement to add some $5 billion to mass transit funding through 2003, bringing the total amount of proposed spending to $40 billion.The Senate voted 52-47 to cut a state's highway construction funds by 5 percent in fiscal 2002 and 10 percent after that if it fails to adopt laws banning open alcoholic containers in operating vehicles.
"In 22 states it is legal for passengers in a car to be drinking and in five states it is perfectly legal for the driver of a vehicle to have one hand on the steering wheel and the other wrapped around an open bottle of whiskey," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., sponsor of the measure.
But immediately after the Dorgan vote, the Senate rejected, by 56-43, a measure proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., that would have imposed similar penalties on states that don't ban drive-through alcohol sales.
Bingaman said drive-through sales are legal in 26 states, and in those states alcohol-related fatalities are 14 percent higher than in other states. He said such sales make it more difficult for salespeople to identify minors or buyers who are intoxicated.
But some senators expressed concern about a backlash if there were too many bills punishing states for not enacting anti-drunken driving legislation.
Both measures were amendments to a major highway spending bill now working its way through the Senate. The House has yet to take up the bill.
The bill provides for $173 billion in spending on construction and safety over the next six years. It is expected to be combined with the mass transit legislation that, under the agreement announced Thursday for an additional $5 billion, allots some $41 billion for public transportation.