Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The 'law and order' lege backpedaling on tougher DUI law

Earlier in the session, Rep. David Schapira (D-LD17) accomplished something unusual for a Democrat in the Arizona State Legislature -

An amendment that he proposed was added by the House to a bill, which later passed the Senate also and was signed into law by Governor Napolitano.

The amendment, now law, requires that first-time DUI offenders install an ignition interlock device (IID) into their vehicles and that they pass a breath test before their cars will start.

The new law gives Arizona some of the strongest anti-DUI laws in the nation, yet it was done in a reasonable, non-"lock-'em up and throw away the key" way.

Coming from the AZ lege, that's almost unheard of.

Rest assured, however, that the lege's bout of sanity and reason was short-lived, though it ended in a rather surprising manner.

The House, led by a Republican ex-police officer, is trying to weaken the law.

Yesterday, LD8 Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Scottsdale) proposed, and the House passed, an amendment to another bill, SB1582, gutting the new law. Kavanagh's amendment would require IIDs for first time DUI offenders only if they cause an accident with injuries or property damage.

Now, when I first heard about the move by Kavanagh, the partisan hack in me immediately started thinking "Damn! The Republicans won't let a Democrat get anything passed, and if one does, they're so blindly partisan, they'll try to repeal it."

Then the cynic in me chimed in.

The new law is a general one; it applies to all DUI offenders.

It will apply even to the moneyed denizens of Kavanagh's district in north Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.

Could it be that Rep. Kavanagh, a hardcore 'law and order' Republican, realized that this law could apply to 'good people' and their families and rode to the rescue?

I've got a sneaking suspicion that if the original law was targeted only at immigrants, Kavanagh would be trying to make it tougher, not weaker.

Note1: There is some question about whether yesterday's vote will make a bit of difference. The amended bill still has to go back to the Senate, where the original sponsor of it, Sen. Linda Gray (R-LD10), has said that she doesn't approve of the change. If they get that worked out, it still has to be signed by the Governor.

In other words, Kavanagh still has an uphill battle on this.

On the other hand, his LD8 counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Carolyn Allen, is well respected and influential. If she's on board and can convince Linda Gray, it might make it through conference committee.

Stay tuned.

Note2: There are some concerns over the original bill, witnessed by the fact that a number of Democrats supported the amendment. Simply put though, Kavanagh and his amendment would have more credibility if one of them had actually proposed the amendment in the first place.

A number of the representatives expressed concerns about the impact of the IID provision in the new law on women, motorcyclists, and families of DUI offenders.

To them I say: Whatever the impact, it sure beats jail time.

AZ Rep coverage is here.

EV Trib coverage here.


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