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First-time OVI offenders would have to use breathalyzer ignition under plan

Special to the Legal News

Published: April 14, 2014

A pair of lawmakers from McDermott and Circleville have introduced a bill into the legislature that would require ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders of operating a vehicle while impaired.

House Bill 469 would replace a first-time offender’s limited driving privileges with an ignition interlock device.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Reps. Terry Johnson and Gary Scherer.

“Under current law this is permissive,” Johnson said in recent sponsor testimony for the bill before the House Judiciary committee. “The sentencing judge may require the offender to use the IID if he or she deems it appropriate. Under this bill, all offenders will be using this device. Once they are arrested and charged, they will be required to use the IID in order to legally drive. This will be in effect throughout their trial, and if convicted, they will have to continue to use the IID throughout their suspension.”

The proposed legislation, also known as Annie’s Law, defines a “first-time offender” as a person with no prior OVI convictions whose license has been suspended for an alcohol-related offense under the state or a municipal OVI law, the state implied consent law if the person tested positive, or under the Ohio out-of-state OVI law.

“This bill is dedicated to a wonderful young lady who was taken from us far too soon,” Johnson said.

“Annie Rooney was the model citizen. She graduated from Brown University before going to law school. She then was a prosecuting attorney in Bozeman, Montana where she aggressively prosecuted domestic violence while serving as the assistant music director for a local radio station.”

Johnson said Rooney later returned to Chillicothe, her hometown, to open a law practice.

“She was killed by a drunk driver on July 5 of last year,” he said. “Since then, her family has worked with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in their cause to reduce the number of casualties to this horrible tragedy that occurs far too often.”

Johnson said the IID issue is the “most glaringly-needed change” to the state’s OVI laws.

“Part of the reason we introduced this bill is because we do not believe enough first time offenders are required to use this device,” he said.

“According to the Newark Advocate, in 2013, the Ohio Highway Patrol cited more than 24,000 people with operating a vehicle while under the influence, but only 2,407 people were using ignition interlock devices in July. Frankly, this is far too few.”

In December 2012, Johnson said the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that states require ignition interlocks for all DWI offenders.

“They also cited that only one in four offenders have one installed,” he said. “On top of that, according to MADD, between 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. We need to do something about this.”

Johnson went on to describe current Ohio law regarding OVI offenses as an “ineffective system of limited driving privileges.”

“The offender first has a period of 15 days where he or she cannot drive at all. Then he or she can obtain limited driving privileges from the judge to go to certain places such as class, work and doctor’s appointments but only at certain times,” he said. “There is nothing to ensure compliance and nothing to ensure sobriety unless they happen to get caught again.”

By contrast, Johnson said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that ignition interlocks are effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent.

If enacted, HB 469 would eliminate the 15-day suspension and authorizes a court to double the period of license suspension and the time for which a first-time offender must drive with an IID if the court receives notice from the entity that monitors the IID that the IID was tampered with, circumvented or prevented the offender from starting the motor vehicle.

The bill also would authorize a court to require a first-time offender to wear an alcohol monitor upon receipt of notice that the offender’s IID had been compromised.

In addition to Johnson, Rooney’s father, Rick Rooney, and Krystal Foster, who survived a drunk-driving collision that killed her husband and seriously injured her young daughter, offered proponent testimony for the bill.

“I did not know Annie Rooney personally, but I do know that she was a young woman a year older than me that had a passion for law and justice and decided that her mission would be to help others who were victims, not knowing that she would become a victim herself,” said Foster, who was not expected to survive her injuries. “She was and still is amazing. Her legacy is still alive and well. This law is important not only for those of us that are victims and survivors, but more importantly for the future victims, because if this law is not passed there will be more victims.”

HB 469 has gained bipartisan support from Reps. Brian Hill, Michael Stinziano, Jack Cera, Nick Barborak, Ron Young, Connie Pillich, Nickie Antonio, Heather Bishoff and Ryan Smith.

The bill has not been scheduled for additional hearings.

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