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The Des Moines Register, Wednesday, February 7, 1996, page 1M

Court restores driving privileges

The ruling says the state may not automatically suspend licenses of
convicted drug dealers.

Register Staff Writer

     Hundreds of convicted drug dealers will have their driving
privileges restored and the state of Iowa could lose more than $16
million annually in federal highway aid as a result of a little-
noticed decision issued last month by the Iowa Supreme Court.
     The court struck down a 1993 state law that calls for the
automatic six-month suspension of the driver's license of anyone
convicted of a drug-related criminal charge.  According to the court,
the license suspension was an unconstitutional second punishment for
a single criminal action.

Subject to Suspension
     Shirley Andre, chief of the Department of Transportation motor
vehicle division, said 8,483 people with drug convictions were
subject to the suspension law before the court nullified it with its
decision Jan. 17.
     With the decision, Andre said, the department stopped imposing
new suspensions and lifted those that were in effect.  Although the
department has yet to systematically contact those serving their
suspension that driving privileges have been restored, officials have
informed drug offenders who have inquired about their driving statis.
     Transportation officials have decided against expunging drug-
related suspensions from the driving records of those who have
already completed them, Andre said.
     The Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by Richard Dressler of
Des Moines, who in March 1994 was stopped by authorities near Huxley
for a broken taillight.  Officers discovered a small quantity of
marijuana in his possession.  Dressler pleaded guilty and paid the
fine on the criminal charge.
     He challenged the license suspension in court.  Ironically,
disposition of the case took so long that Dressler served the full
suspension, so the ruling has no practical effect on him.
     "It's the first step in the right direction of common sense,"
said Jeff Crispin, the Des Moines lawyer who represented Dressler.
"There's no logical connection between these drug offenses and
driving privileges."

Unrelated Charges
     The court decision addresses only license suspension for drug
offenses that are unrelated to driving, such as possession or sale of
drugs.  It has no bearing on license suspensions for those convicted
of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.  In fact,
the Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion on the same day last month
upholding precedures for suspending the licenses of drivers charged
with driving under the influence.
     Three years ago, Gov. Terry Branstad recommended to the
Legislature passage of license suspensions in drug cases.  Branstad's
support of such a policy as a get-tough measure only partially
explains how the law came to be.
     In addition, the federal government said failure by Iowa or any
other state to pass such a measure would cost state governments 5
percent of their federal highway aid in 1994, and 10 percent in
subsequent years.  At the time, transportion department lobbyists
told lawmakers that the higher percentage represented about $16
million a year for Iowa.  The sum presumably would be higher now,
Andre said.
     The federal deadline for state action on the legislation has
passed, so the Supreme Court's decision to nullify the Iowa law
leaves the status of future federal highway aid questionable.  Andre
said officials are preparing a letter to U.S. Transportation
Secretary Federico Pena explaining the situation and seeking his
     "To my knowledge, no other state has been fraced with this
particular challenge," said Andre.
     In addition to sorting things out with federal highway
officials, Andre said her agency has been discussing with Branstad
staff possible legislative responses to the court's decision.
     Andre and David Hudson, Branstad's legislative lobbyist, say
it's too early to know what course of action will be recommended this
session to the Legislature.  The options include repealing the
unconstitutional provision outright, or developing a substitute
provision that would achieve the same goals in a constitutional way.
     In 1993, the federal government permitted states that opposed
the license suspension policy for drug offenders to preserve their
full highway allotment by passing a legislative resolution stating
their intention not to pass such a law.  Even if that option remains
for Iowa officials - and it's not clear that it does - Andre said
it's an unlikely course of action, given Branstad's support for the
suspension policy.

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