Friday, April 11, 2003
The measure is supported by MADD, Buckeye Sheriffs, OSHP and Miller Brewing.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Motorists with five or more drunken driving convictions on their record would receive at least a year in prison under a bipartisan bill introduced by two northeast Ohio lawmakers.
It's a measure that state Sen. Leigh E. Herington, a Portage County Democrat, and state Rep. W. Scott Oelslager, a Stark County Republican, say is necessary to protect the public from those who repeatedly drive while drunk.
"We are here today to say to repeat and chronic DUI offenders that you are about to spend more time in jail rather than on the street," said Herington.
"We think this is absolutely necessary to send a message," said Oelslager.
Under the bill, introduced in the Senate on Tuesday, a prison sentence of one to five years would be mandatory for offenders with five or more DUI offenses. The bill would make drunken driving a fourth-degree felony for those with at least five convictions.
Under present law, the only mandatory sentence for DUI offenders is either a 60-day or 120-day sentence, depending on the offender's blood-alcohol level. Unless someone is seriously injured, the first three DUI offenses are considered misdemeanors, the lawmakers said.
Praise for measure
The proposal, which Herington had introduced in the last General Assembly that ended in December, was praised by Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh.
"This is a very good bill," said Walsh. "I firmly believe this bill will save lives."
DUI sentences "have not been that harsh in the case of habitual offenders," Walsh said, noting a case in Summit County involving a defendant with 17 prior DUI convictions.
Both Herington and Oelslager said they hoped for quick consideration of the measure in both the House and the Senate. Oelslager said he planned to introduce the bill soon in the House.
According to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 576,000 motorists in the state have one drunken driving conviction on their records, nearly 15,000 have five and 7,089 have six.
Judy Mead, the prevention coordinator for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Ohio, said she hoped the measure would serve as a deterrent for chronic offenders.
"With six-plus DUIs, they don't get it," Mead said. "It's going to take tougher laws and enforcing them," Mead said.
The measure is also supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association, Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Miller Brewing Co., the lawmakers said.
State lawmakers approved lowering the drunken driving standard to .08 blood-alcohol concentration from the current 0.10 BAC as part of the recently approved gas-tax increase, effective July 1.