Proposed WV DUI Bill Detoured to Committee

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

DUI bill taking minor detour to Finance Committee subpanel for study

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — A year-long effort to encourage the use of Interlocks to test the sobriety of drivers and punish more harshly those with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher ran into a temporary detour Thursday.

Mindful of the complex nature of the bill, Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, decided to dish it off to a three-member subpanel.

Donna Hawkins, state president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the prime mover of the bill that consumed a year of interims study and work by an ad hoc panel she directed, was visibly disappointed by the delay.

But Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, who keyed the push for the bill in the Legislature, didn’t mind that a panel composed of Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, would study it further.

“I don’t object to that,” Foster said afterward. “They want to look at the financial aspects.

“It’s a complicated bill. I think the tenor of comments we heard from the other members of the committee indicated they will move on it.”

The idea is cut from 30 days to 15 the length of a license suspension of first-time offenders who voluntarily install the Interlock, a device that measures BAC and won’t let one start if it’s too high.

“We’re going to run the bill,” Chafin promised. “We want to understand the bill more clearly. Obviously, it’s a big issue in West Virginia. We’ve got jails full, and prisons.”

In the so-called “aggravated DUI” category of .15 or above, motorists would spend a mandatory jail term of two days to six months and be fined from $200 to $1,000. A license could be revoked for up to 270 days.

Another aspect that makes it attractive to counties struggling to pay regional jail costs wipes out the mandatory 24-hour lockup for first-time offenders.

“What actually happens now, individuals are brought into a holding cell to see a magistrate, and that could be two hours or 10 to 12 hours,” Foster told the panel.

“Then they will see a magistrate who can decide whether they stay 24 hours or not, or is free to leave. Before, they had to go back and finish up the 24 hours.”

And that, he emphasized, amounts to double booking for the same offense, meaning a county has to shell out twice for the same individual.

Hawkins told the panel she has no problem with eliminating the 24-hour mandatory sentence in existing law.

“We think this is an excellent bill,” the Charleston resident said. “We fully support this piece of legislation. We think it will save lives.”

In 2006, the last year figures were available, drunken drivers were blamed in 129 deaths and some 2,500 non-fatal injuries.

“What we have found with MADD is that jail time alone is not the deterrent,” she said.

“We believe the Interlock provision in this bill will help save lives. And it gets the offender back on the road faster. It allows them to provide for families. And it will also save on regional jail costs, which we know is a big concern.”

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