Boothe opposes open container bill

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 11, 2000

Staff Writer

Tossing back a cold one while riding in the backseat could soon be illegal in the state of Alabama.

This week, the House Judiciary Committee approved an open container bill that would make it illegal to possess an open alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a vehicle even if no one is drinking it. If the law passes, violators could be fined up to $500.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The penalty would apply to the driver or any passenger in a vehicle on a road or right-of-way. Professional bus drivers and their passengers, as well as those in motor homes, will be exempt.

Rep. Nelson Starkey, D-Florence, who is sponsoring the bill, said he is not sure what would happen if a bottle is thrown in the back before a law enforcement officer approached the driver.

"I guess you can get away with that," Starkey said. "That’s sort of like buckling your seat after they pull you over."

Open containers will include cups of liquor and beer. However, open containers of alcohol, such as bottels with broke seals, can be carried in the trunk, truck bed or rear compartment of a sport utility vechicle.

Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, didn’t like it when the legislation came up last year and he still doesn’t like it. In 1999, the same issue passed the House, but died in the Senate.

"I’ve got some problems with this," Boothe said of the open container law.

Boothe, who is chief of the Troy State University Police Department, said the legislation would punish those who are being responsible by having a designated driver.

"We encourage students to have a designated driver," Boothe said. "We need to be sure we’re not penalizing programs that encourage responsibility."

He said "putting a responsible person in jail" because he or she is driving intoxicated sorority or fraternity members is not right.

But, not everyone feels the same way.

Mary Hasselwander, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said that state department is supporting the bill.

"Anything that would keep highways safer is something we would be in support of," Hasselwander said.

"That’s what we’re here for ­ to keep the people safe."

According to a member of the Judicary Committee the reason for the legislation is because the Alabama Department of Transportation stands to lose $10 million in federal dollars if the state does not conform to federal guidelines.

Florida, Gerogia and Tennessee are among 28 states that have open container laws; however, the laws in Georgia and Tennessee only apply to drivers.

Dry counties in Alabama have similar statutes on their books, but passage of the law would make open containers illegal anywhere in Alabama.

The bill will go to the House for debate as early as next week.