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Md. House gives preliminary approval to ignition interlock bill

Md. House gives preliminary approval to ignition interlock bill

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ANNAPOLIS – The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Friday to legislation that would expand the use of the use of ignition interlock devices for people convicted of driving drunk.

The House is expected to vote on final approval by the end of next week.

The interlock devices prevent vehicle ignitions from working unless the motorist passes a breath test for sobriety. Under a 2011 law, the devices are required on the cars of Marylanders who were convicted of drunken-driving with blood alcohol concentrations of .15.

The pending legislation — named in memory of a police officer killed by a suspected drunken driver — would expand the use of interlock devices for individuals convicted of drunken driving with a BAC of .08, the state’s minimum standard for being legally drunk.

Supporters of House Bill 1342 had been concerned by a House Judiciary Committee amendment deleting a provision requiring ignition interlock devices be installed on the vehicles of drunken driving suspects who had refused to take a breath test to measure their BAC. The bill’s proponents, including the officer’s family, said the committee’s action would have weakened the bill by giving suspected drunk drivers an incentive to decline taking a breath test.

Amid that concern, the House panel amended the bill Thursday night to give individuals who refuse a breath test the choice of having their driver’s license suspended for 270 days or having an ignition interlock system installed on their vehicle for one year. Current law provides for a 120-day suspension for refusing to take a breath test.

Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery and the bill’s chief sponsor, said after the House’s preliminary voice vote Friday that he welcomed the committee’s amendment.

“The ignition interlock saves lives,” he said.

The legislation has been dubbed “Noah’s Law” for Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, 24, who was struck and killed in December by a suspected drunk driver during a traffic stop involving another motorist. Leotta was on a police task force that enforced laws against drunk driving.

Luis Gustavo Reluzco, the suspected drunk driver, has been charged with negligent manslaughter in Leotta’s death.

A similar measure is pending in the Senate. Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, is the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 945, which was the subject of a hearing Thursday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“The safety of the people should be the highest calling,” Raskin, quoting the Roman philosopher Cicero, said at the Thursday hearing. “It’s a solemn responsibility we have.”

The Senate committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.

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