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Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Senate Approves Tough DWI Bill

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE A comprehensive bill designed to combat New Mexico's chronic drunken driving problems won the unanimous approval of the Senate on Tuesday.
    The bill (committee substitute for HB 117), which the Senate approved on a 39-0 vote, goes to the House for consideration of Senate changes.
    The measure, backed by Gov. Bill Richardson, would toughen several DWI penalties, including increasing the minimum jail sentence for a second DWI conviction from 72 hours to 96 hours.
    The bill, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Thomas Swisstack, D-Rio Rancho, also would impose a sentence of 18 months for a fourth DWI conviction. Under current law, a fourth or subsequent conviction carries a minimum six-month sentence.
    The measure would impose penalties of:
   
  • Two years for a fifth conviction;
       
  • 30 months for a sixth conviction;
       
  • And three years for a seventh or subsequent conviction.
        "It really is going to make a huge step forward in trying to deal with the DWI situation," said Sen. Cisco McSorley, an Albuquerque Democrat who carried the bill during Senate debate.
        McSorley said the bill and other measures would bring New Mexico into compliance with federal DWI regulations and ensure that the state will not face restrictions on federal highway funds.
        Sen. Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican who sponsored New Mexico's ignition interlock law, praised the bill.
        "New Mexico wins if we get this bill passed," Cravens said.
        Under the bill, second- or third-time offenders would be required to spend at least 28 days in an inpatient treatment center, 90 days in outpatient treatment or participate in a drug court program approved by a judge.
        The bill also would lower the maximum legal blood-alcohol content for commercial drivers from .08 to .04.