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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

MADD Applauds DWI Bills

By Kate Nash
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE New Mexico lawmakers should pursue several anti-DWI bills this year, including one that would stiffen penalties for driving drunk with children, the national head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said.
    Wendy Hamilton, MADD's president, was at the Capitol Tuesday to applaud legislators who are considering some 40 bills related to lowering the state's DWI rates.
    She spoke of a national campaign to make sure kids are riding safely.
    "Every child in this country deserves a designated driver," she said at a news conference with Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and several lawmakers.
    Sixty-seven percent of children killed in car crashes were riding in cars where the driver was drunk, Hamilton said.
    Bills in the House and Senate would increase penalties for people who drive drunk with kids.
    Sen. Joe Carraro, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring a measure, Senate Bill 532, that would make it a first-degree instead of a third-degree felony if a child is killed in a car crash with a drunken driver.
    The bill also would increase from a fourth-degree to a third-degree felony the penalty for driving while intoxicated with a child in the car, even if no crash occurs.
    The goal, Carraro said, is to "get people to think 'If I drive with my kid drunk, I'm going to be in big trouble.' "
    A similar measure in the Senate (SB 708), sponsored by Rep. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, would extend the increased penalties to those who have prior DWIs and penalize people who knowingly allow others to drive drunk with kids.
    Another measure, HB 569, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, would make it an aggravated DWI to drive drunk with a minor in the car.
    With so many related bills before lawmakers, they've pledged to combine some of the measures that would increase jail time, impound cars and require treatment for DWI convicts.
    Denish said she and Gov. Bill Richardson are looking over all the measures to decide which ones to support.
    Hamilton was impressed by the volume of bills. "It's clear that there are several of you that are committed ... to having a better tomorrow," she said.
    Carraro said he is concerned that another bill he is sponsoring (SB 16) is stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill, aimed at habitual offenders, would significantly increase jail time depending on the number of the offense.
    While Carraro said he supports other bills that would increase jail time, he said he fears they aren't stiff enough.
    "Thirty days in jail doesn't keep someone off alcohol. If they drink and drive and go to jail for thirty days, and then do that again four or five times, then it's not enough."