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House committee tables DWI bill

SANTA FE – On the same day that Mothers Against Drunk Driving came to the Capitol to honor anti-DWI efforts, a House committee tabled legislation to increase jail time for repeat felony DWI offenders.

The same legislation last year passed the House 63-0 but died in the Senate without a vote.

The House Transportation and Public Works Committee voted 5-2 on Thursday to table House Bill 10, which would have specified that prior felony DWI convictions count toward the state’s mandatory sentencing increases for repeat offenders.

Opponents of the bill said there were unanswered questions about the legislation. They said it was unclear how much it would cost the state to increase jail time and whether increased sentences can address alcohol dependency problems affecting repeat DWI offenders.

“The (fiscal analysis) said we don’t know what the cost of this is going to be,” said Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, who voted to table the bill. “How are we going to handle that?”

White said he may raise the legislation for reconsideration if questions about the cost of implementation are addressed.

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Shiprock, said she voted against the bill, because the state should be putting more emphasis on rehabilitation programs than jail time for repeat offenders.

“I don’t feel a whole lot is done when a person is incarcerated for repeated offenses,” Clahchischilliage said. “There’s definitely a problem right there that needs to be taken care of. There were just too many questions.”

Both White and Clahchischilliage said they didn’t recall why they voted last year to support the same legislation.

Also voting against the bill Thursday were Reps. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, and Anna Crook, R-Clovis.

Voting against tabling the bill were Reps. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, and Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other anti-DWI activists rallied and provided information at the Capitol on Thursday in support of New Mexico anti-DWI efforts. A Mothers Against Drunk Driving representative spoke to the committee in support of House Bill 10.

Although critics said they might move to reconsider the legislation with changes, a co-sponsor did not sound optimistic.

“I wish the bill hadn’t died,” said Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-White Rock, a co-sponsor of the bill. “I feel very disappointed. I feel we took a step back from last year when we were able to pass it unanimously.”

Gov. Susana Martinez supports the legislation. Her spokesman, Enrique Knell, said, “DWI has a devastating impact on New Mexico families, and we have to use every resource possible to keep New Mexicans safe from drunk drivers.

“It’s particularly disappointing that the bill was tabled this year in a House committee, given that a substantively similar bill passed overwhelmingly out of the House last year with every single Democrat voting for this bill,” Knell said.

The state habitual offender law requires one extra year in prison for convicts with one prior felony within 10 years, four additional prison years for convicts with two priors, and eight additional years for convicts with three or more earlier felonies.

In New Mexico, DWI is a felony crime after a third drunken driving conviction.

House Bill 10 would also make it more difficult for DWI offenders using an interlock device in their vehicle to have it removed. The bill would allow no more than two failed blows in the six months before the device can be removed.

The bill would also require offenders on house arrest to routinely use a Breathalyzer.

Garcia Richard, the bill’s co-sponsor, said supporters are looking for ways to address concerns for increased attention to treatment.

“I did hear a strong message about treatment and rehab. Frankly, I agree with adding a treatment component,” Garcia Richard said. “I’ve talked about doing that from the very beginning. We decided not to do it in this bill.”