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A step back in DWI fight

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By Optic Editorial Board

Anyone in New Mexico who picks up a newspaper or watches television news knows that we have a major problem with repeat DWI drivers in this state.

The list of repeat DWI drivers who have killed or maimed someone in New Mexico is long, and it grows by the day.

That’s why it’s unfortunate that the House Transportation and Public Works Committee voted 5-2 last week to table a bill that would have imposed stiffer penalties on repeat DWI offenders, a move that one of the bill’s sponsors says effectively killed the legislation.

Gov. Susana Martinez supported the bill, and her office’s reaction to it being tabled was swift.

“DWI has a devastating impact on New Mexico families, and we have to use every resource possible to keep New Mexicans safe from drunk drivers,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell told the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s particularly disappointing that the bill was tabled this year in a House committee, given that a substantively similar bill passed overwhelmingly out of the House last year with every single Democrat voting for this bill.”

Disappointing indeed. Ironically, the legislation was tabled on the same day that Mothers Against Drunk Driving was at the Capitol honoring anti-DWI efforts.

The bill would have ensured that prior felony DWI convictions count under New Mexico’s Habitual Offender Enhancement statute. Effectively, it would have increased the prison time that repeat DWI drivers are sentenced to.

The legislation also would have mandated that DWI offenders under house arrest have home Breathalyzers, devices that can determine whether someone has been consuming alcohol. And the bill would have made it harder for someone who has an ignition interlock on their vehicle to have that device removed.

Critics of the legislation point to a fiscal impact report that states that the cost of enacting the legislation would be significant; more jail time for these offenders means more taxpayer money to keep them locked up. They also take issue with the fact that the bill does little to ensure that repeat DWI offenders get the treatment they need.
It’s too bad that the bill’s opponents didn’t consider the cost of not enacting the legislation, a cost that, sadly, will be measured in human lives.

Yes, getting these individuals the treatment that they need is important. But so is holding them accountable for their thoughtless actions that put each and everyone of us in jeopardy.