Of the eight bills the Criminal Justice Committee heard today, some of them almost as interesting as watching grass grow (just a joke, Drew…just a joke…), the most intriguing by far was HB496 offered by Majority leader Steve Shurtleff, a Concord Representative who just happens to have a background in law enforcement.
He was joined by former Republican Rep John Tholl (seven terms) from Whitefield, another veteran of law enforcement at the state, county, and town level.
That would seem to be a powerful one-two punch for a bill which would allow those convicted of first time driving while intoxicated offenses to receive a special driving license to go to and from work, but only if an enhanced monitoring device is installed in the car (at a cost to the offender of about $110 for installation and $80 a month).
The joy of this bill is that it was suggested to me by someone reading this blog after the filing period had ended; I made a note to get to it for next year, but now we may in fact get it done before then.
Vice Chair Renny Cushing will head a subcommittee looking into the bill, but reaction was generally favorable from members of the committee.
As is often the case, my first question involved what other states do. In fact, this is being done in many, if not most other states.
The driver would only be able to travel to and from work (or to a drug rehab course), thus being able to retain a job and feed his or her family rather than going on welfare at additional cost to taxpayers.
Chris Casko, from the Department of Safety, testified against the bill in its current form, but he was amenable to changes (such as adding a $50 fee to cover the cost of implementation by the department…seems reasonable enough…what’s a $50 fee if I get to keep my job).
Rep. Tholl (my former seatmate by the way…we often disagreed on law and order issues) said he used to oppose such a bill but was convinced that it could work with the enhanced technology interlocking devices we now have available.
Score one for the forces of sanity!
Alton Police Chief Ryan Heath, speaking for the New Hampshire Police Chiefs Association, opposed the bill, bringing forth the old canard that driving is a privelege, not a right and that suspension is needed as a deterrent.
State Police Sgt. Max Shapiro also opposed the bill, stating that it would be “fundamentally unfair” to allow such a break for drunk driving offenders but not others who lose their licenses. He didn’t seem to like Rep. Tim Robertson’s (D-Keene) suggestion that we could amend the bill to apply to all those on suspension (Tim beat me to that comment). Another person suggested that there is a difference—judges have no discretion with DWI offenses while they do with other traffic violations.
The committee also heard from Brad Fralick from a company which installs and operates the devises.
This bill certainly needs some refinement, but I for one think it’s an idea whose time has come, and yes, I’m on the subcommittee. My only fear now is that Republican leadership will once again make the party look bad by opposing this sensible idea while Democrats get behind it and get the credit. Don't do it, Gene, don't do it! (He never listens to me!).