COLUMBIA -- An S.C. Senate committee Tuesday approved an amended DUI bill that Gov. Mark Sanford and others contend would do little to reduce the state's high drunken-driving death rates.
"We were hopeful that a majority of the full Judiciary Committee was as serious as the House was about creating a tougher law and unfortunately, that didn't appear to be the case today," Sanford said after the committee's vote.
"The DUI death rate in our state is deplorable, and the Senate has a real chance to step up and do something about it by taking out this weakening language."
Sanford was referring to Senate language in the bill dealing with a tiered system of punishments, refusal to take a breath test and roadside instructions by police.
Earlier Tuesday, he declined to say whether he would veto the Senate version if both chambers approved it.
The full Senate likely will take up debate on the bill next week. The House passed its version last year, but it got to the Senate too late in the session for consideration.
Of 1,037 people killed in crashes in South Carolina in 2006, 523, or 50 percent, died in alcohol-related wrecks, according to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
South Carolina tied with Wisconsin as having the third-highest death rate in the nation that year, according to an analysis Tuesday by The State newspaper. Hawaii had the highest rate at 52 percent, followed by Rhode Island at 51 percent.
Both the House and Senate versions would create a new tiered system that would tie penalties to a driver's blood- alcohol level and prior DUI record -- the higher the blood-alcohol content and more prior offenses, the stiffer the penalty.
In the House version, for example, penalties would range from 48 hours in jail for a first offense of driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08 percent, -- the legal limit for adults -- to seven years in prison for a fourth offense of driving with a blood-alcohol level of .16 percent or greater.
But under the version the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Tuesday, the tiered system wouldn't kick in until a second offense. That means a first offender would face the same penalties for a first offense, regardless of his or her blood-alcohol level.
The Senate version would mandate some jail time for second offenders.