By Ed Anderson, The Times-Picayune
January 25, 2010, 7:14PM
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Task Force on Driving While Intoxicated and Vehicular Homicide agreed Monday to look into the possibility of increasing fines and penalties for drunken driving, but delayed a vote on specific proposals until more research is done.
The task force will examine the laws and fines in states with lower fatality rates, and possibly make its recommendations to the Legislature based on that information, said John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission and a member of the task force.
norma_broussard.JPG’We don’t want children to be driven by someone who just rolled out of jail,’ said Norma Broussard, an assistant district attorney in Jefferson Parish who handles DWI cases.
“I am not opposed to additional fines,” LeBlanc said, “but before we proceed, we should do the study.”
* In July, Gov. Bobby Jindal signed three bills changing drunk drivng laws.
Louisiana recorded 451 alcohol-related highway fatalities in 2008 and 427 in 2009, although not all data has been compiled, commission spokeswoman Jamie Ainsworth said.
“The fines and costs have not been increased in a while,” said Norma Broussard, an assistant district attorney in Jefferson Parish who handles DWI cases. “It needs to be looked at. Hitting people in the pocketbook is a good way” to reduce drunk driving.
Recommendations could be adopted at the task force’s Feb. 22 meeting.
LeBlanc said he also will look at possibly increasing the criminal penalties for DWIs if lawmakers don’t want to increase fines. “We don’t want to propose anything that would not be successful,” LeBlanc said.
Murphy Painter, chairman of the task force and director of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, cautioned the task force to focus on a handful of issues for the legislative session, possibly three to five recommendations that have a good chance of passing.
Painter said the panel will probably zero in on changes on how the state monitors the use of ignition interlock devices for those convicted of DWIs. He said that sometimes a person gets the device and pays for six months of service then lets the payments lapse or uses another car.
The devices require drivers to blow into them before turning the ignition; if the device detects alcohol on the driver’s breath, it bars the vehicle from starting.
The task force also is looking at legislation to require school bus drivers who have been cited for a DWI to “self-report” the incident before picking up kids again.
“This would prevent someone getting a DWI at 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning and getting on a school bus with 50 kids” later in the day, Painter said.
Rep. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, a member of the task force, said the panel may want to require the driver to self-report to the local school board and leave it up to the school board to assess a possible administrative penalty such as suspending the driver.
“We don’t want children to be driven by someone who just rolled out of jail,” Broussard said.
Broussard also suggested a change in the law that now requires judges to order the seizure and sale of vehicles of drivers convicted for third and subsequent DWIs. “I have not spoken to any district attorneys in the state that have implemented this,” Broussard said, conceding the law requires the judges to order it as a part of sentencing.
She said that district attorneys and police should be cut in on some of the proceeds of the sale of seized vehicles, possibly encouraging more stringent enforcement and use of the seizure and sale provisions of existing law.
Broussard suggested that 60 percent of the proceeds go to local police agencies, 20 percent to district attorneys and the other 20 percent to a special insurance commission that studies auto insurance rates and law changes.
Committee members agreed that if police, who must pay storage and auction costs of vehicles seized, are paid, judges may be more likely to enforce that portion of the DWI law for repeat offenders.
A vote on the measure was deferred until next month to give task force members a chance to see how often judges use the seizure and sale segment in sentencing.
Ed Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 225.342.5810.