|Baton Rouge, LA – House Bill 769 by Mark Wright was considered by the Louisiana House Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday, its second committee in the path to passage. Despite more than a half hour of emotional testimony by victims and survivors of DWI’s about the loss of their loved ones, the Committee decided to defer the bill for a week to consider amendments that would lessen penalties for offenders.
The bill would make changes adopted by 36 other states and the District of Columbia when it comes to shaping behaviors around drunk driving. Those states have gotten serious about preventing DWI related deaths by focusing on reforming defendant behaviors around drinking and driving on their first offense and regulating vendors who provide technology that stops drunk drivers from starting their vehicles.
“He was on 7th offense,” said one victim who said the driver that killed her family member didn’t have strict consequences to prevent him from reoffending.
Louisiana has a higher rate of repeat offenses than many other states. Last year DWI’s in Louisiana increased by 8.9% from 2020. And in 2020, more than 40 percent of the motor vehicle crashes in Louisiana were alcohol-related. These alcohol-related crashes resulted in 332 fatalities. All of them were preventable.
“When you lose a child, the complaints about what is easy for the person who killed them really don’t matter,” said Gary Prince of Lowville Louisiana, “My son Jordan is gone…We need to pass this bill.”
Louisiana is in the minority of states that don’t require the use of an ignition interlock advice on first offense. Last year, three students at Nicholls State University lost their lives in a high-profile DWI incident that involved a driver with multiple offenses. But such instances aren’t rare in Louisiana. And that’s because of its lax approach to first-offense DWI.
The bill seeks to give defendants the tools they need to change their behaviors, including reduced fees for defendants on public assistance and use of interlock on first offense so that defendants know when they are too drunk to drive.
The bill is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Responsibility.org, The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Students Against Destructive Decisions, and Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving.
HB 769 will accomplish the following:
- Provide a reduced rate for offenders determined to be indigent, through a vendor funded program with State Police Investigated non-compliance
- Set up annual certification for devices, technicians, and service centers
- Regulate devices by ensuring they comply with the newest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Model Specs
- Host inspections annually for service centers and testing for technicians
- Authorize Louisiana State Police to enforce compliance
- Credit the offender for time served in pretrial, bond or probation conditions
- Allow workers to return to work by striking current mandatory “hard” suspension times, with optional interlock terms
The bill will also enact data-driven, proven methods to reduce recidivism:
- Change blood alcohol threshold for requiring and interlock from .20 to .15 matching 26 other states’ laws
- Require research-based 180 day minimum interlock period on first offense
- Implement interlock devices on hardship licenses and reinstatement for first offense
- Make suspension time equal to interlock term
- Institute compliance-based removal and extended time for violations