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Legislators agree on first time DWI offender program

CONCORD — House and Senate negotiators agreed Tuesday on a bill allowing first-time, drunk driving offenders to drive to and from work, school or for medical care.

House Bill 496 establishes a restricted license for first-time, drunk driving offenders after they have had their license suspended for 45 days or more. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Stephen Shurtleff, D-Concord, is similar to laws in 20 other states, including Maine.

Under the bill, an offender could petition the court for a limited license that would allow him or her to drive to work and back, to look for work, to attend substance abuse treatment, to receive medical treatment or to attend school, and for medical emergencies for family members.

The bill is intended to allow a first-time offender to maintain his or her employment while abiding by the law’s restrictions.

The restricted license limits the time and days a person could drive and would cost $50.

The Senate version of the bill, which the House negotiators agreed to but reduces the time of suspension from 60 to 45 days before the limited license would take effect, establishes a separate fund to administer and enforce the program, which would begin Jan. 1, 2016.

The two sides argued about the waiting period before settling on 45 days.

The House argued for a 30-day suspension, saying that would not be too much of a hardship on families who would have to drive the person to work, or school or to a doctor.

“That will prevent the people who mess up one time from losing their jobs,” said Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.

But Senate negotiators pushed for a longer suspension. “I know people make mistakes but there have to be consequences,” said Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett.

The Senate version would also have the person notify local police of the court order allowing limited driving privileges.To participate in the program, a driver would have to pay for an enhanced ignition interlock device that prevents a vehicle from starting if the person has alcohol on his or her breath. The interlock device is key to the program and will ensure those convicted of drunk driving do not drive, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has made the bill one of its legislative priorities.

The House and Senate will have to vote on the compromise next week.

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