Rep. Curry Todd ducked out of the House of Representatives in just enough time Thursday to miss voting on a bill giving judges the power to force people to submit to blood-alcohol tests who are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.
Todd, formerly a Memphis cop and lobbyist for the Fraternal Order of Police, refused a breath test himself after he was arrested last fall on suspicion of DUI. He has since pleaded innocent and the case has been bound over to a grand jury.
The Collierville Republican was walking around the chamber Thursday morning during debate about HB2752, a measure that would allow a judge to issue a warrant or court order giving police the legal power to extract a blood or breath sample against an individual’s will.
During the bill’s floor debate, Todd told the House clerk he was feeling sick and got permission to go home, according to Kara Owen, Speaker Beth Harwell’s spokeswoman. Todd publicly announced this week that he was diagnosed several years ago with a slow-growing, incurable form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
House Bill 2752 narrowly passed, 52-33, with bipartisan support. It received two votes more than it needed for passage.
Todd was arrested Oct. 11 in Nashville. He was charged with illegal possession of a gun police allegedly found tucked between the driver’s seat and the center console, and was charged with refusing to take a Breathalyzer test in addition to DUI.
Under state law, drivers enter an “implied consent” agreement to submit to Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol tests. First-timers refusing to take the test gives up the right to drive anywhere but to and from work for a year, even if they are ultimately found not guilty of the drinking and driving charge.
Last budget year, 2,241 drivers were convicted for rejecting the tests, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. In that same time frame, the state recorded 22,119 DUI convictions, although it does not specify how many of those convictions overlap. Those statistics include convictions both of Tennesseans across state lines and out-of-towners convicted in the Volunteer State.
Todd wasn’t the only lawmaker present who decided not to vote on the measure. Eleven other lawmakers were in attendance during the vote and refused to weigh in for or against the bill, including six Republicans and five Democrats. Among them were the chamber’s top party leaders, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.
“It concerns a lot of people when the government holds people down and takes bodily fluids out. I think you saw that in the close vote today,” McCormick said. “It’s just something where we have to find where the line is and draw it.”
The measure awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.