Bill Now Heads To Senate
POSTED: 7:57 am EDT October 20, 2005
BOSTON -- House lawmakers approved a new bill designed to crack down on repeat drunken drivers, toughening existing penalties and creating new crimes, including driving under the influence with a child under 14 in the car and lending your car to someone who is drunk.
The bill also requires repeat drunken drivers to use so-called interlock devices that force them to blow into a small tube to prove they haven't been drinking before starting their cars. The bill creates criminal penalties for anyone who tampers with the device.
A particularly contentious portion of the bill dealt with the question of whether prosecutors could use court records alone, as opposed to eyewitness identification, to prove someone had been previously convicted of a past drunken driving offense.
The Senate bill included the provision. The House version also included the provision, but only if the court ruled it was constitutional first.
The compromise version of the bill eliminates that section. Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, a member of the six-member conference committee which hammered out the compromise between the House and Senate versions, said lawmakers would still ask for an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Judicial Court.
"Once we receive that information back from the court and they deem it to be constitutional, it will be added to the new (drunken driving) bill," Costello said.
Not all lawmakers supported the compromise.
Rep. Lewis Evangelidis, R-Holden, said the bill should have included the provision allowing prosecutors to use court records instead of simply promising to ask for an advisory opinion.
"Why are we taking it out of the bill today? We all want it and it's not in here," he said.
The bill was the subject of intense, closed door negotiations throughout the day, finally reaching the House floor at about 7:30 p.m. Many lawmakers had only an hour or two to read the bill before debating and voting.
The bill passed on a 114-22 vote. Several lawmakers had left earlier in the day for a trip to Spain and did not vote on the final compromise bill.
The bill would also:
- Create a new crime with a mandatory one-year sentence for knowingly lending or giving a car to someone who is intoxicated;
- Revoke for life the driver's license of anyone convicted for drunken driving after having already been convicted for a drunken driving homicide offense;
- Create the new crime of manslaughter by drunken driving with a mandatory sentence of at least 2 and a half years;
- Increase the length of a license suspension for drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test after being pulled over.
The bill, known as Melanie's Bill, is named for 13-year-old Melanie Powell, who was struck and killed by a repeat drunken driver in July 2003.
The bill now heads to the Senate for a vote as soon as Thursday. If approved, the bill returns to both chambers for a final procedural vote before heading to Gov. Mitt Romney's desk.
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