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Minnesota House unanimously OKs plan to tighten state’s DWI laws on snowmobiles, ATVs

ST. PAUL -- Lawmakers took a step closer to closing a set of DWI loopholes Wednesday, May 16, after the House unanimously approved a plan to fully bring ATV riders and snowmobilers under the same laws that govern drivers of automobiles and trucks.

The legislation was inspired by the death of Alan Geisenkoetter Jr., the 8-year-old boy who was killed this winter by an allegedly drunken snowmobiler while ice fishing with his family.

Alan Jr. and his father, Alan Geisenkoetter Sr., of Wyoming, Minn., were setting up a portable ice fishing shelter on Chisago Lake  in January when a snowmobile struck them both, fatally injuring Alan Jr.

The driver of the snowmobile, 45-year-old Eric Joseph Coleman, had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit for driving, according to authorities. Coleman, who was indicted on third-degree murder charges, had a history of drunken driving violations, including three revocations of his driving privileges.

Under current state law, operators of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are treated differently than drivers of cars and trucks when it comes to drunken driving. For example, if your driving privileges are revoked from a DWI in a car, you can still fire up the snow sled. Under the new proposal, such a driver would be prohibited from operating an ATV or snowmobile.

That would also hold for refusing to submit to a breath test, which can lead to the loss of driving privileges.

There’s also, under current law, a softer set of penalties for a first-time DWI if it involves a  snowmobile, ATV or other off-road vehicle. That special treatment would also be eliminated under the proposed legislation.

On Wednesday, the House approved the changes on a 126-0 vote. The measure has already sailed through the Senate, but a few minor differences need to be reconciled before it heads to the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton.

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