By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – A proposal is alive in the Legislature that would require people convicted of drunk driving to install an ignition interlock device in their car to obtain a driver’s license.
The legislation, sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has been sent to conference during the final two weeks of the session where House and Senate leaders will try to work out differences.
The bills in conference include the more than 100 appropriations bills that fund state government, bond bills to finance long-term construction projects and numerous bills to provide tax breaks or incentives for various business entities.
Much of the focus this season has been on the education bills in conference, such as enhancing the state’s charter school law, developing a pre-kindergarten program and replacing elected superintendents with appointed superintendents.
But there are scores of other bills in conference, including the ignition interlock proposal.
“The ultimate goal is to prevent drunk driving anyplace,” said Gunn, whose parents and younger sister were killed by a drunk driver while he was in law school at the University of Mississippi.
The legislation would require someone convicted of drunk driving to install the device to their vehicle’s ignition. Before cranking the vehicle, the driver would have to blow into the device and if the person’s blood-alcohol level was above the calibrated limit, it would prevent the vehicle from starting.
According to various websites, the device costs between $100 and $200 to install and normally requires a monthly rental fee. It can be calibrated to require the driver to be retested if driving for longer periods.
Gunn said he has filed the legislation for at least the past three sessions. This is the closest it has gotten to passage.
The legislation passed the House with four dissenting votes and with two no votes in the Senate.
Some of the concerns about the legislation center around the costs of the devices and the fact that the machine might give false positive readings if someone is taking a cold medication, for instance. Plus, the devices would not detect other substances that might impair a person’s driving, such as marijuana or other drugs.
Gunn said another benefit of the legislation is that a person who was convicted of drunk driving would be able to drive sooner. Under current law, a person’s license is suspended for 90 days upon the first conviction, though there is a mechanism to obtain a hardship license. Under the legislation, the suspension would be for 30 days and the offender would still have to take an alcohol safety program.
There is a mechanism to have the charge non-adjudicated under certain circumstances and there would be stiffer penalties for repeat offenders, though the final details of how the proposal would work still have to be worked out in the conference process and voted on again by both chambers.
“MADD came to me about filing this bill,” Gunn said. “It is something that is used in other states and has a lot of benefits.”
According to the web page for the Mississippi charter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 17 states, including Louisiana and Arkansas, have similar laws. According to MADD, 147 people were killed in Mississippi in wrecks involving drunk drivers in 2011.
Under current law, a judge has the discretion to order someone convicted of drunk driving to have the interlock ignition device installed.