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February 05. 2013 10:14PM

Lawmakers consider 'Cinderella' license for first-time DWI offenders

CONCORD - A proposal to let convicted first-time drunk drivers get a "Cinderella" driver's license is expected to get some tinkering before making it to the House floor.

The bill, filed by House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Penacook, would let a person convicted of driving while intoxicated drive a car during limited hours and for limited purposes - getting to work or substance abuse meetings and taking family members to medical appointments.

A convicted drunk driver's car would be rigged with a device that would require a positive breath test to start the engine. New technology would transmit a picture to ensure the person taking the breath test is the convicted driver. The car would have a GPS unit that would alert public safety officials if the time and range of the vehicle's use exceeded limits set by a judge.

Offenders would pay the cost of the device, plus installation and a monthly $80 monitoring fee.

Former Rep. John Tholl of Whitefield, a longtime state trooper who served as deputy Republican whip in the last legislature, spoke during Tuesday's hearing on the bill before the Criminal Justice Committee.

He said the license must be restricted to true first-time offenders, with "absolutely" no prior history of drunk driving.

Tholl has been active in drunk driving legislation for years, and sponsored a bill to toughen penalties on people who try to cheat the ignition lock devices, such as a convicted drunk driver from Merrimack who pleaded guilty in 2010 to having her daughter blow into the device.

Christopher Casko, administrator of hearings for the state Department of Safety, called the proposal overly broad and suggested that some loss of license is needed to drive home the severity of the offense and the public danger it presents.

"License suspension is the most meaningful part of the sentence and has the most deterrent effect," Casko said. "A minimum suspension would go a long way toward the deterrent effect."

Casko said the Department of Safety would be willing to work with the committee to craft appropriate legislation.

An organization representing the state's criminal defense attorneys backs the Cinderella license proposal.

Katherine Cooper, executive director of the New Hampshire Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the committee that first-time drunk drivers are often cured by education and don't need to have their jobs, homes and medical care put at risk.

"Until I was educated about it, I never knew how little it took to reach .08" (the blood-alcohol level considered positive evidence of drunken driving), Cooper said. She said the intervention programs required after a first conviction are often enough to keep an individual from driving drunk again.

"Most first-offense DWI offenders don't get convicted again," Cooper said. "Most people take this very seriously."

A subcommittee of the Criminal Justice Committee is expected to rework the language of the bill.

wsmith@unionleader.com


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