Vallario stands tall for the 6-margarita happy hour

Chairman kills ignition interlock bill without allowing vote

April 18, 2010|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Those of us in the 200-Pound Drinking Men's Club of Maryland would like to thank House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. for protecting our right to slam down six margaritas in an hour without having to fear being told to install some high-tech gadget on our cars to keep us from driving drunk again.

Under legislation that passed the Maryland Senate under prodding by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, we 200-pounders would have been told by the Nanny State that we couldn't drink more than a measly three of our favorite tequila drinks in 60 minutes without the risk of being saddled with an ignition interlock device for six months.

But Old Joe stood up for us. Virtually single-handedly, he snuffed what those MADD fanatics called the most important drunken-driving legislation of the 2010 General Assembly session.

(And here's a shout-out to House Speaker Michael E. Busch for giving Old Joe the green light to kill the bill without the muss and fuss of putting it to a vote. Sure, Busch's office expressed disappointment that a bill didn't pass, but you gotta love a speaker who stands behind his chairman no matter how much he runs roughshod over his committee members.)

Here's the way it went down: The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would have required a court to order an ignition interlock device installed on the vehicle of anyone convicted of drunken driving, which is defined in Maryland and the rest of the United States as having a blood-alcohol level of .08. But before the senators did that, they took out a provision that would have required the devices even for folks who got probation before judgment.

In part, the Senate took that out hoping to appease Old Joe. MADD insisted that was compromise enough, but Old Joe knew better.

When the bill came over, he held it up for weeks insisting that first-time offenders — which in Maryland usually means two-time losers who have had one PBJ — could only have the device hung on their vehicles if they chugged down seven margaritas in an hour before getting caught.

That was the reasonable compromise advanced by the safety advocates from the Maryland liquor industry and their lobbyists, who have stood up for us poor victims of harsh laws who occasionally go "one sip over the line" and have that fifth or sixth drink.

After all, who wants to punish a 200-pound guy with a device that wouldn't let him drive drunk again just because he had a mere six of those "frozen concoctions" in an hour? According to bloodalcoholcalculator.org, that would yield a BAC of only .146 — well within the .15 that Vallario pointed to as the gold standard in 27 states. Sure, drunken-driving fatalities have gone up in Virginia since it adopted one of those laws in 2004, but only by a few lousy deaths, for crying out loud.

Yes, late in the game, Old Joe dropped the hint that he would have gone as low as .12, which would cut our interlock-free consumption to five margaritas an hour (.119 BAC), but coming as late as it did in the session, and with MADD opposing it, we're pretty sure that was a public relations ploy to convince people he was being "flexible."

Then, on the last night of the session, he declared an impasse and stuffed the bill in his drawer. No time-wasting roll call, no debate, no namby-pamby democracy.

Those MADD folks have nobody but themselves to blame. If they hadn't been unreasonable by insisting on something that would have saved lives, they could have had a bill.

All they had to do was recognize that .08 was an arbitrary standard forced on us by the federal government despite Old Joe's best efforts to block it. But, no, they wanted the law to treat a guy who blew a .08 or .10 as if he were really intoxicated. Don't they understand the concept of Drunk Lite?

Anyway, now those MADD folks are blaming the chairman because they lost their precious bill. They say they don't endorse candidates, but we know they're cheering for the voters to send someone other than Old Joe to Annapolis next year.

Fat chance. We're sure there are way too many party animals in Prince George's County to toss out our guy.

So here's a toast to our hero. Raise your glass to Old Joe Vallabio, uh, Vallagio ... Vannubio.

Oh, the heck with it, where are my car keys?

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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