Gov. Bill Haslam hopes to avoid calling a special session to fix the state's drunk driving laws, but he says the possibility of losing $60 million if Tennessee doesn't might just force him to do so.
The problem is the state's limit for blood alcohol content for 18- to 20-year-olds. Federal highway authorities say it has to be .02, but Tennessee lawmakers raised it to .08 earlier this year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told state officials last week that it will dock Tennessee's highway funds if the state doesn't bring the limit back down by Oct. 1.
Haslam says the warning has his attention.
"One way or another, we've got to figure out a way to not do that. I mean, $60 million is a lot of money."
State lawmakers say they didn't know about the federal government's policy when they raised the blood alcohol limit for young adults. They were actually trying to toughen the penalties for underage DUIs by adding jail time.
Haslam hopes to convince federal authorities to hold off until lawmakers reconvene in January.
He says Tennessee's infrastructure needs are too big to punish the state for an oversight, but he would go along with a special session if that's what it takes to keep the money.
Durham Debate Not In The Plans
Haslam was also asked by reporters Wednesday whether a special session, if one were called, could include a debate over expelling state Rep. Jeremy Durham. The Franklin Republican has been accused of sexually harassing 22 women who worked in and around the state Capitol, as well as of diverting campaign funds.
Durham lost in the primary earlier this month but remains in line to receive a state pension if allowed to serve out his term.
The governor said he favors limiting the scope to transportation funding, but no decision has been made about whether to include discussion about Durham.