Update: Nebraska State Senator Ticketed For DUI

By: Mike McKnight, The Associated Press, Brian Mastre contributed to this report Email
By: Mike McKnight, The Associated Press, Brian Mastre contributed to this report Email

Nebraska State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh was ticketed for DUI after he was pulled over for erratic driving early Wednesday morning. A drunk driving watchdog tells Channel 6 News she's upset the senator hasn't been supportive of laws targeting the bars and servers.

Lautenbaugh was stopped by a Douglas County Sheriff's Department deputy near 147th and West Maple around 2 a.m. Chief Deputy Sheriff Marty Bilek said Lautenbaugh was taken to the sheriff's office and given a breath test indicating his blood-alcohol level was .234, nearly three times the legal driving limit of .08. It was his first DUI offense.

Lautenbaugh issued a statement to Mike McKnight with Channel 6 News Wednesday afternoon, saying, "I am embarrassed to state that I was ticketed last night for driving under the influence of alcohol. This is no one's fault but mine. I will seek an immediate alcohol evaluation and follow whatever is recommended." Lautenbaugh told McKnight he apologizes and will let the legal system take its course.

"I've had such a rush of emotions today," said Michelle Cowan of Council Bluffs when she heard the news. "He put everyone's lives in jeopardy in that area."

The incident took Cowan back to her testimony before the judiciary committee in 2011 about her husband's death at the hands of a drunk driver.

"You learn to live with the loss," said Michelle. "But it's always right underneath. And these types of cases of drunk driving can bring all right back to the forefront in an instance. You go right back to that day."

It was March 30, 2009, when a drunk driver crossed the center line near 108th & Highway 36 and slammed into her husband's vehicle. Joe Cowan died. And so did the drunk driver.

In 2011, Michelle Cowan testified before Senator Lautenbaugh and others about having a Dram Shop law in Nebraska -- where bars and bartenders would be held liable for serving drunk drivers.

Lautenbaugh along with a majority of other senators were against and the Dram Shop law never made it out of committee.

"I think senators are so lax about alcohol issues in general," said Cowan. "That's why we've had such a hard time getting the Dram Shop law passed."

On Thursday evening, Lautenbaugh reacted to the criticism: "My incident was my fault -- my personal responsibility. That is the same rationale for not supporting Dram Shop liability for bars."

Any legal proceedings will have to wait until June as a Nebraska state law from 1875 dictates that no senator serving in the Unicameral can be prosecuted while they are in session as long as it's a misdemeanor.

The constitution reads: "Electors shall in all cases, except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at elections, and going to and returning from the same."

Legislative experts tells Channel Six News that it was designed to keep lawmakers from being arrested as a way to disrupt the process.

Lautenbaugh -- an attorney -- has served in the Legislature since 2007, representing the northwest Omaha area. Previously, he was the Douglas County Election Commissioner.

The 103rd Legislative Session is scheduled to end June 5.


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