A bill to ban open containers of alcohol in Tennessee cars passed a hurdle today in the state legislature when it won approval of a House subcommittee.
Currently a driver can’t be charged with drinking while driving if a passenger is holding the open container.
Critics call the present statute a “pass the bottle” law. Representative Jon Lundberg says state lawmakers have been trying to change it for 20 years, with no success. Last year, the bill passed the Senate Judiciary committee, but failed to gain any traction in the House.
“Things that make common sense should be able to happen in a political body. And this is one of those issues that I have trouble going back home, and when people say, ‘Why can’t you pass that bill?’”
Opponents of the measure have argued that it is unfair because people riding to a football game in a chartered bus could drink but those driving to the same game in a car could not.
The state Department of Transportation says the federal government has withheld about one and a half million dollars from Tennessee’s highway funds every year for nine years because of the current law. The money is shifted from highway uses, like paving, to programs like alcohol countermeasures and traffic police.
The open container bill is HB 2744 Lundberg/SB 2672 Faulk
Lundberg, who is in his fourth year in the House, expressed a newfound confidence that the bill might pass.
“But I think they’re starting to get it, coming around. I feel pretty good, that the vote was strong, five to three. And candidly, I didn’t expect it to come out of the subcommittee today.”
Lundberg fought the bill to an incomplete conclusion in his first term.
The summary of the bill, including the financial summary, is here.