The North Dakota House of Representatives today spent more than twenty minutes of floor time debating a bill which would have outlawed DUI checkpoints.
It was a remarkable debate despite the loss of the bill. Remarkable because it put on display a libertarian-minded faction of state House which has grown over the years. The lawmakers speaking in favor of this legislation were articulate, well-reasoned, persuasive almost to the point of winning on an issue that has been an almost automatic loser in past sessions.
The legislation in question is HB1180, introduced by Republican Rick Becker of Bismarck. Originally it was much more broad in scope, applying not just to DUI checkpoints but things like game stops as well, but its focus was narrowed in committee.
The bill failed on a 41-46 vote. It’s worth noting that a similar bill in the 2015 session, also introduced by Rep. Becker, failed by a wider 34-59 margin.
“Many, many of our citizens do feel this is an infringement of their 4th amendment rights,” Becker said of drunk driving checkpoints during the floor debate.
Here’s the video, which is worth your time to watch.
Opponents of the legislation including Rep. Pat Heinert, a Republican who also serves as the Sheriff of Burleigh County, pointed out that DUI checkpoints have been upheld by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the North Dakota Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court upheld it, but that doesn’t address the concerns of my constituents,” Becker said in response.
He used an analogy of someone using a tool to work on his house that scratches his finish. He said it can be appropriate to take that tool away in favor of another. In the instance of DUI enforcement, the other tool being roving patrols which Becker and supporters of his legislation argue are superior to checkpoints anyway.
Rep. Luke Simons, a Republican from Dickinson and a reserve deputy to boot, said one thing he and other law enforcement officers “talk about at night is how dumb checkpoints really are,” he said.
But Rep. Porter said the constitutional questions about checkpoints are irrelevant. “I didn’t win this seat unanimously,” he said, pointing out that he won it because he got a majority of the vote. “We govern by the majority,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s split decision on the legality of checkpoints.
“Any tool that will keep our roads safer, that will keep our citizens safer, is a valid tool,” Porter added.
But Rep. Chris Olson, a Republican from Fargo, disputed that. “We could probably eliminate a lot of crimes if we wanted to eliminate probable cause,” he said. “We could live in a very safe society, but it wouldn’t be a very free society,” he added.