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DRUNK driving law takes effect

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A new state law could mean trouble for Oklahoma drivers who mix firewater with fireworks over the Fourth of July holiday period.

Effective Sunday, a motorist can be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol for having a blood alcohol content of .08. That's down 20 percent from the previous .10 threshold.

Another new law will mean $46.3 million in savings to Oklahoma taxpayers.

They are among scores of bills, including several appropriations measures, that were passed by the recently adjourned Legislature with an effective date of July 1, the first day of the 2002 fiscal year.

``All in all, it means that its going to take less alcohol to hit the legal limit for being under the influence,'' said Lt. Chris West, Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman, of the new law that affects those who drive and drink.

West said troopers are aware of the new law, but that doesn't mean the change will generate a lot of additional arrests.

``It isn't a holiday where we just go out and sack up the drunks,'' he said.

Most people go to family-oriented events on Independence Day, he said, adding that the instances of drunk driving during the July holiday period does not compare with New Year's Eve or Memorial Day.

Even before the law change, West said, officers in Oklahoma could arrest someone with an alcohol content below .08 on a charge of ``driving while impaired,'' commonly referred to as DWI.

The drunk driving change was in an omnibus law enforcement reform package heralded by Gov. Frank Keating as being both ``tougher and smarter'' on crime.

From now on, the felony limit on bogus check writing and certain property crimes will be $500, up from $50. Offenses under $500 will be misdemeanors.

Eight crimes have been added to the list of felonies that require inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

They are second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, poisoning with intent to kill, assault with intent to kill, shooting with intent to kill, manufacturing high levels of controlled dangerous substances, robbery involving two or more people and first-degree robbery.

Repealed is a controversial ``cap'' law that triggered the release of inmates because of overcrowding.

The tax cuts were part of a budget agreement between Keating and legislative leaders that also led to the appropriation of an additional $109 million to education.

The package cuts the state's top income tax rate from 6.75 percent to 6.65 percent, a $23.8 million reduction, and implements a state Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-and-middle-income families.

Under the unearned income tax plan, a family of four with two children making the minimum wage, or earning $10,7000 a year, would get a tax break of $194.40.

Another new law, prompted by the investigations of Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist, earmarks $650,000 to the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to continue DNA testing of criminal cases.

One law going into effect establishes a registry for juvenile sex offenders.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs will work with the state Department of Corrections to create the registry, which will be similar to the state's sex offender registry for adults.

The law authorizes the release of registry information to criminal justice agencies and the public pursuant to a court order.

Juvenile sex offenders face a misdemeanor charge if they do not register annually under the law.

When a registered offender turns 21, a prosecutor may petition to have the offender transferred to the adult registry.

Sen. Ted Fisher, D-Sapulpa, introduced the legislation in reaction to an Oilton case in which 7-year-old Kristi Blevins was murdered and her 12-year-old friend was raped.

Robert Wayne Rotramel, 20, is awaiting trial in that case. Authorities said the defendant had a history of sex offenses as a juvenile.

Sen. Susan Winchester, R-Chickasha, was author of another new law that permits a parent to leave a newborn baby up to seven days old with a medical provider or law enforcement officer without fear of being charged with child abandonment.

Winchester said the law is aimed at saving babies' lives.
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