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House panel approves DUI bill to eliminate snowmobile 'loophole': Offenders would be prohibited from driving

ST. PAUL—By a unanimous vote and with no one speaking against it, a bill that would make it illegal to use a snowmobile for a year after any drunken driving conviction passed through another key committee at the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday.

Currently, state law takes away snowmobile driving privileges only in DUI cases involving snowmobiles themselves. Thus, a person who is convicted of drunken driving in a car could still use a snowmobile to get around, bypassing restrictions placed on their automobile.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch, called the practice an unfair "loophole," and she noted that her bill also eliminates a part of state law that allows for lesser penalties for intoxicated snowmobilers convicted of a first offense.

Representatives from two state snowmobile associations both testified in favor of the bill before the House public safety committee Wednesday. No one testified against it.

In January, 8-year-old Alan Geisenkoetter Jr. was struck by a snowmobile driven by an allegedly drunken driver on a Chisago County lake. The Wyoming, Minn., boy died days later of his injuries.

The driver, Eric Coleman, 45, of Chisago City, has been charged with third-degree murder; prosecutors noted Coleman had a recent DUI conviction and a breath monitor in his car.

Geisenkoetter's grandfather, Al Geisenkoetter, made his first trip to the Capitol to watch the proceedings Wednesday; Geisenkoetter said the law seemed like a no-brainer.

"They're lethal vehicles," Geisenkoetter said. "There's no reason to treat them different."

The bill was forwarded to the House's environment and natural resources committee. A companion bill remains pending in the Senate.