Governor signs bill toughening penalties for DWI

Surrounded by teary-eyed families who lost loved ones because of drunken drivers, Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 118 into law, significantly increasing the penalties for the worst DWI repeat offenders and for drunken drivers who kill people on the road.

The signing ceremony was held at the State Police district headquarters in Albuquerque. The bill takes effect July 1.

Sponsored by Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, the bill reclassifies vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol or drugs from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony, and subjects a convicted offender to up to 15 years in prison – up from six years.

In addition, mandatory sentencing for convicted repeat offenders with eight and subsequent DWI arrests will increase from two years to 10 years, with a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Quoting statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Martinez said that “on average, a drunk driver will drive 80 times under the influence before their very first arrest.” That, she said, “is outrageous and completely unacceptable.”

Last year, State Police arrested 2,196 drunken drivers, “that’s six people every single day,” the governor said. In addition, 118 New Mexico families lost loved ones to drunken drivers last year, and 34 of the victims were under 21.

Although she said the passage of SB 118 shows the state is “clearly moving in the right direction,” Martinez took the Democratic-controlled Senate to task for taking some of the teeth out of the DWI legislation.

Maestas Barnes said getting the bill passed required “time, hard work and compromise, but it also required a lot of pushback against certain legislators and lobbyists from the criminal defense bar who sought to kill this legislation.”

Nevertheless, the bill passed at 2:13 a.m. on the last day of the 30-day session, she said.

Also on Tuesday, Martinez signed:

  • Senate Bill 1, which would add emergency lifesaving skills training – such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, use of an automated external defibrillator, and performing the Heimlich maneuver on choking victims – to the health education curriculum requirements for students.
  • Senate Bill 306, which would provide school districts with financial flexibility for the next three years by allowing the public education secretary to waive requirements for class loads, teaching loads, school day length, staffing patterns, subject areas and instructional materials.

Journal staff writer reporter Deborah Baker contributed to this report.

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