Friday, February 7, 2003
DWI Measure Passes House
By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE The House on Thursday approved one of many bills aimed at fighting drunken driving this year and, in a twist on the ordinary, it is a measure calling for treatment in addition to tougher penalties.
The measure (HB 117 committee substitute) would require alcohol treatment for people convicted a second or third time of DWI.
But it also could mean repeat offenders would spend more time in jail.
"Most of us know (treatment) is one of the major issues facing these offenders," said Rep. Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, the sponsor.
The bill, if approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bill Richardson, would mean second- or third-time offenders would get a minimum of 30 days in an inpatient treatment center or 90 days of outpatient treatment. It would add at least a month to the sentences of drunken drivers convicted again within a three-year period.
Swisstack said counseling is the key to stopping chronic offenders.
"Part of this is to start to break the cycle," he said in an interview.
The bill calls for a look at what DWI treatment resources are available. While it does not carry an appropriation, Swisstack said his measure would cost about $2 million to set up.
"Maybe at the end of the 60-day session, we'll discover we have to add more money for treatment," he said.
Swisstack said more than 19,500 people were arrested in 2001 for DWI. Of those, more than 1,200 have four or more convictions.
The bill is one of about 75 in the Roundhouse this session aimed at stopping DWI. Swisstack's measure now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Rep. James Taylor, D-Albuquerque, said the measure is part of a larger effort to reform DWI laws in New Mexico this year.
"This is the first step so far. We've got a few more to take," he said.
One step will be reconciling possible overlaps in the various bills, Swisstack said.
"There will be some issues ... we can fine tune that later," Swisstack said. But he added his measure has bipartisan support and that of Richardson.