Drake’s Law sails through Senate

MARSHALL – A week after the Minnesota House unanimously passed Drake’s Law, the Senate has followed suit.

The law, which would stiffen penalties against repeat DWI offenders, moved through the Senate on Wednesday on a 61-0 vote.

The bill’s Senate author, Gary Dahms, introduced the bill on the Senate floor for the final time Wednesday. He referred his fellow senators to a letter from Gov. Mark Dayton in support of the legislation.

Dahms said the unanimous vote sends a message that the bill has the full support of the Senate and that “people were serious about it. Governor Dayton had given us a letter in mid-March that he was supporting the bill, so we know the bill will get signed and Drake’s Law will be official.”

Named in memory of Drake Bigler, the late son of Brad and Heather Bigler, Drake’s Law has been in the works for a number of years. Drake was five months old when the SUV he was a passenger in was struck by a truck driven by a heavily-intoxicated Dana Schoen of rural Starbuck. Schoen pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal vehicular operation, a plea that included an admission of a blood-alcohol content of 0.32 percent – four times the legal limit in Minnesota.

Drake’s Law will increase the maximum felony prison sentence to 15 years from 10 years for criminal vehicular homicide. The tougher penalty would apply to people who had a previous DWI offense within the past 10 years and caused injury to a person or property damage.

“We’re happy that everything came together,” Brad Bigler said. “It’s gratifying, for sure, to be able to not only protect our roads, but to know that people will be held accountable for making bad decisions.”

Brad Bigler, the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University who was severely injured in the crash, and Heather Bigler, a school counselor in Marshall, have testified multiple times in St. Paul as they continue their efforts to toughen the law on repeat offenders. The family has spoken in numerous schools and groups to spread the word of the dangers of drinking and driving.

“You know, we get a lot of credit, but honestly, there are a lot more people involved that put in a great deal of effort,” Brad Bigler said. “There are a lot of voices behind the scenes, and we are appreciative of everyone’s effort and thankful everything has worked out.”

The bill, which was brought to the Senate floor as a House file so it wouldn’t have to be sent back to the House after clearing the Senate, hit a snag last year in terms of some of the language that was included in it. Without some changes to that language, Dahms said there was no way of knowing if there would be enough votes to pass the Senate.

“We laid the bill on the table, and there were several things that needed changes,” Dahms said. “But a week after that we sat down and worked the language out with legal counsel and our advisers there.”

District 16A House Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, authored the bill on the House side.

“To know that it only awaits the governor’s signature is great news,” Heather Bigler said. “It will soon become law. Senator Dahms and House Representative Swedzinski were excellent in working with us and other lawmakers to make this happen. We give the glory to God.”

The bill now heads to Dayton’s desk, where it will become law. It needs to be signed into law within three days. A ceremonial signing of the bill in St. Paul will come at a later date.

Drake’s Law sails through Senate

MARSHALL – A week after the Minnesota House unanimously passed Drake’s Law, the Senate has followed suit.

The law, which would stiffen penalties against repeat DWI offenders, moved through the Senate on Wednesday on a 61-0 vote.

The bill’s Senate author, Gary Dahms, introduced the bill on the Senate floor for the final time Wednesday. He referred his fellow senators to a letter from Gov. Mark Dayton in support of the legislation.

Dahms said the unanimous vote sends a message that the bill has the full support of the Senate and that “people were serious about it. Governor Dayton had given us a letter in mid-March that he was supporting the bill, so we know the bill will get signed and Drake’s Law will be official.”

Named in memory of Drake Bigler, the late son of Brad and Heather Bigler, Drake’s Law has been in the works for a number of years. Drake was five months old when the SUV he was a passenger in was struck by a truck driven by a heavily-intoxicated Dana Schoen of rural Starbuck. Schoen pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal vehicular operation, a plea that included an admission of a blood-alcohol content of 0.32 percent – four times the legal limit in Minnesota.

Drake’s Law will increase the maximum felony prison sentence to 15 years from 10 years for criminal vehicular homicide. The tougher penalty would apply to people who had a previous DWI offense within the past 10 years and caused injury to a person or property damage.

“We’re happy that everything came together,” Brad Bigler said. “It’s gratifying, for sure, to be able to not only protect our roads, but to know that people will be held accountable for making bad decisions.”

Brad Bigler, the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Minnesota State University who was severely injured in the crash, and Heather Bigler, a school counselor in Marshall, have testified multiple times in St. Paul as they continue their efforts to toughen the law on repeat offenders. The family has spoken in numerous schools and groups to spread the word of the dangers of drinking and driving.

“You know, we get a lot of credit, but honestly, there are a lot more people involved that put in a great deal of effort,” Brad Bigler said. “There are a lot of voices behind the scenes, and we are appreciative of everyone’s effort and thankful everything has worked out.”

The bill, which was brought to the Senate floor as a House file so it wouldn’t have to be sent back to the House after clearing the Senate, hit a snag last year in terms of some of the language that was included in it. Without some changes to that language, Dahms said there was no way of knowing if there would be enough votes to pass the Senate.

“We laid the bill on the table, and there were several things that needed changes,” Dahms said. “But a week after that we sat down and worked the language out with legal counsel and our advisers there.”

District 16A House Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, authored the bill on the House side.

“To know that it only awaits the governor’s signature is great news,” Heather Bigler said. “It will soon become law. Senator Dahms and House Representative Swedzinski were excellent in working with us and other lawmakers to make this happen. We give the Glory to God.”

The bill now heads to Dayton’s desk, where it will become law. It needs to be signed into law within three days. A ceremonial signing of the bill in St. Paul will come at a later date.