State Representative Proposes Changes To Open Container Law

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM)-- A state representative has proposed changes to the state's open container law that --if passed -- could give Arkansas millions of dollars to use on road projects.

Mathew Pitsch, the state representative for District 76, said Arkansas was one of the last states to put an open container law into statute in the last general assembly.

“The problem we have is ours isn’t word for word with the federal government’s open container law," Pitsch said. "So what we need to do is get the wording to be the same because if it is not, we pay a two and a half percent penalty on all federal dollars that come into our state.”

That penalty equals about $12 million.

Instead of using that money for road projects, they have to use it for safety and education projects instead.

Danny Straessle, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) spokesman said they usually have about $34 million for safety and education.

“We are already hurting for highway funding throughout the state and it's no secret that we’re looking for additional funding, but to have an additional $12 million practically taken away from you because it's restricted that doesn’t help us out any," Straessle said.

He said the state has until October 1 to make the changes or they will not be able to put it towards roads.

Since the state is up against the clock, Pitsch said they will discuss this bill in a special session.

Straessle said ARDOT has been working with the legislature to explain to them how important this decision is.

He said the bill, if passed, would change three different things:

The first would simply be to define what an alcoholic beverage is in the law.

The second would be to remove an exemption that allows an open container, as long as it is out of reach of the driver.

The third would address parked vehicles.

“Right now the current statute states it's okay if you are parked somewhere on a public road, on the shoulder or somewhere, that you can have an open container and this [bill] would also eliminate that," Straessle said. "So, basically no open containers in a vehicle is what we are looking at.”

That's about $12 million could be used in various projects including fixing potholes to being used for bigger projects.

Pitsch is unsure how others will vote, but said there seems to be a lot of support for the bill just in conversations he has had.