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Supporters say House committee weakened drunken driving bill
September 27, 2005

BOSTON --Backers of a bill designed to crack down on repeat drunken drivers say members of a House committee gutted key portions of the bill, which is scheduled for debate in the House on Wednesday.

The legislation, known as Melanie's Bill, would increase drunken driving penalties and close loopholes that allow repeat offenders to sidestep criminal charges, supporters say. The bill is named for 13-year-old Melanie Powell, struck and killed by a repeat drunken driver in July 2003.

Powell's grandfather, Ron Bersani, said the House Judiciary Committee deleted important sections of the bill before sending it to the full House for debate on Wednesday.

One deleted section would require mandatory jail time for drivers caught operating without a driver's license after being suspended for drunken driving. Another would let prosecutors charge anyone caught driving under the influence with a child in the car with child endangerment.

Other deleted sections would have created new crimes, including aggravated drunken driving and manslaughter by motor vehicle. Another would have mandated the use of devices that bar a driver from starting a car if he is drunk.

"I think there are a small number of very powerful members of the House who have never supported increased penalties for drunk driving and they don't support them now," Bersani said.

A call to the House Judiciary Committee was not immediately returned.

Senate members say they are committed to the original language of the bill.

"Drunk driving is bad enough, but these are repeat drunk drivers," said state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen. "That's unconscionable."

Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said senators will try to amend the bill or substitute the original bill when it reaches them, likely on Thursday
 
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