Legislators' Bills Meet Criticism, Defeat In Committees

Drunken-driving Bill Detoured To Nowhere

March 10, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — A House committee voted Thursday to reject two bills reintroduced bya Carroll delegate aimed at making life tougher for convicted drunken drivers and easier for police.

The House Judiciary Committee voted, 18-2, against a bill that would have required state courts to impose an alcohol restriction on licenses of those convicted of a secondor subsequent drunken-driving offense or those refusing to take a breath test measuring alcohol in the blood.

It voted 20-1 against another bill that would have required courts to assess a mandatory $25 surcharge, in addition to regular penalties, to individuals convicted of drunken-driving offenses or granted probation before judgment on those charges. The money would have been targeted toward the purchase of breath-testing equipment for law enforcement agencies.

Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, the sponsor of both bills, had no backers to strengthen his case during hearings Wednesday. Testimony from law enforcement agencies, judicial orMotor Vehicle Administration officials or citizens groups condemningdrunken drivers was conspicuously missing during the hearings.

Infact, nobody testified on either bill, pro or con.

But a crowd was in attendance to testify on about eight other drunken driving-related bills.

The file folders on Matthews' bills also were devoid of testimony.

Matthews said he did not contact any organizations to urge their support, nor did any communicate with him.

Committee members did not ask any questions about either bill after Matthews presented summaries. Matthews, a committee member, cast votes in favor of each bill.

An alcohol restriction -- similar to vision restrictions or other special license provisions -- prohibits an individual fromdriving with any alcohol in his blood.

An individual violating the alcohol restriction or refusing to take a breath test could have his license suspended by the MVA, following a hearing.

MVA now has the option to impose an alcohol restriction, but Matthews maintains the agency is not doing so consistently.

The license restriction prohibits a motorist stopped by police for suspicion of drunken driving from refusing to take a breath test.

The restriction also warns police that a driver has had previous drunken-driving troubles.

MVA opposed the bill last year, said Matthews, objecting to the mandatoryrequirement. The committee killed the bill last year, 21-1, with Matthews casting the only dissenting vote.

The voting outcome last year also was 21-1, with Matthews dissenting, on the bill that would have imposed the $25 surcharge on convicted drunken drivers.

"The people abusing the system should pay for it," Matthews told the committee.

Lawyers on the committee generally don't approve of tacking onsurcharges to legally established fines, then dedicating the revenuefor a specific purpose.

The Department of Fiscal Services estimated that the surcharge could generate about $545,000 in fiscal 1992. MVA estimates that there are nearly 22,000 cases each year in Marylandin which individuals are convicted of drunken-driving offenses or given probation before judgment.

Matthews said he introduced the legislation last year after a state police officer told him the agency was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace and upgrade breath-testing equipment. Results from those tests are considered the most valuable piece of evidence for lawyers prosecuting drunken-driving cases.

The state police requested $284,250 last year to purchase 50 infrared breath-testing units, an average of $5,685 per unit, says Fiscal Services.

"This is a very timely thing to do," Matthews said, referring to looming cutbacks in state agencies because of slumping revenues.

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