During the 2003 legislative session, 16 states had to make a choice: join the rest of the country and comply with a federal requirement to set a .08 blood alcohol content standard for drunk driving or lose a substantial amount of federal highway money ["Slow to Toe the DUI Line," May 2003]. Many state legislators had minimal opposition to the content of a .08 law but resented the federal intrusion.
Last month, Delaware became the final state to pass a .08 drunk- driving standard, meaning that all states are now in compliance with the federal law. Legislators in Delaware had tried to pass .08 legislation three times in the past seven years, but the attempts had been torpedoed by opponents of federal intervention and concern about punishing social drinkers. States faced an October 2003 deadline for passing such a bill before they started losing 2 percent of their highway money, but could file to have the funds reimbursed as long as they passed the law by 2007.
In the other 15 states that lowered their legal BAC levels since Governing last examined the issue, many legislators felt that taking the stand against Congress was fine--until it would result in a monetary loss during a tough budget period. "Blackmail is just that," says Todd Taylor, an Iowa state representative. "None of us who were opposed really were opposed to the public safety aspects. It was more we didn't like the method or the means."