DWI bill passes State House

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The House has unanimously approved a proposal Wednesday toughening penalties against drunken driving in New Mexico.

The legislation will establish new standards for drunken drivers to meet before they can get their licenses fully restored and stop using an ignition interlock, which are intended to prevent vehicles from operating if the driver has been drinking.

Drivers must blow into the devices before starting their vehicles and then randomly after that.

Another provision allows judges to require drunken drivers sentenced to house arrest to use a breath alcohol analyzing device in their home to determine whether they remain sober.

The measure also will add mandatory prison time to the basic sentence of drunken driving offenders with previous felonies.

The legislation cleared the House on Wednesday and goes to the Senate for consideration.

The vote was 63-0 and the bill was sponsored by Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson (D-Bernalillo), Stephanie Garcia Richard (D-Los Alamos, Sandoval, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe) and Tim Lewis (R-Sandoval) and the House Judiciary Committee to consolidate their three separate bills into one comprehensive package.

“This is one of the most important bills we will vote on during this session,” said Speaker W. Ken Martinez (D-Bernalillo, Cibola, McKinley, Socorro, San Juan and Valencia-69).  “I commend our freshman and sophomore legislators for working with the Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan manner. This package provides a clear ‘carrot’ (allowing house arrest and ignition interlock) and a big ‘stick’ (increased prison time for habitual offenders).”

Garcia Richard originally sponsored a bill that allows judges to order DWI offenders to house arrest and undergo home breathalyzer tests twice a day.  The offender would be required to pay costs associated with the home breathalyzer device. Fees collected from the interlock device fund can be used to cover part of the costs of leasing home breathalyzer devices for indigent people.

Garcia Richard said, “This was a collaborative effort to make a strong statement about drunk driving — it is no longer acceptable in New Mexico.”