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Md. House passes ignition-interlock bill named for fallen officer

ANNAPOLIS – The House of Delegates on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation that would expand the use of the use of ignition interlock devices for people convicted of driving drunk.

With the House’s 136-0 vote, attention shifts to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which is expected to vote on a similar measure this 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 legislation — named in memory of a Montgomery County 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.

Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery and the bill’s chief sponsor, told his colleagues before the vote that the legislation “unequivocally will save lives. You put your green vote up there, you’re going to be on the side of the angels.”

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 drunken drivers an incentive to decline taking a breath test.

Amid that concern, the House panel amended the bill last week 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. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that “this bill will save lives.”

The legislation has been dubbed “Noah’s Law” for 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.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin is chief sponsor of the Senate version, Senate Bill 945.