The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, bill H.R. 7, could have major implications for North Carolina. The bill was introduced on January 29 by House Republicans with the support of both parties. The bill, if passed, would provide up to $25 million in federal grants to states that agree to pass laws requiring the use of ignition interlock systems on cars driven by anyone convicted of a DWI. This includes first time offenders and does not have a blood alcohol level (BAC) requirement. Under this proposed law, a person convicted of a DWI with a .07, with no prior DWI could still be required to use an interlock.
This is a very small portion of the Jobs Act, but is one of the few portions garnering bipartisan support. Even if a less stringent interlock requirement is passed, it’s now clear that Congress is prepared to dangle large sums of money- even in a time when lawmakers are promising to cut spending- to states that will get even stricter on DWI enforcement.
North Carolina is already one of the toughest states on DWI and interlocks are already required here in some cases. If this bill becomes law, it will become even more crucial for individuals charged with DWI to hire a defense attorney who is familiar with DWI law and DMV procedures for driving privileges.
There are heavy hitters on both sides of this issue, which could lead to debate on what otherwise looks to be a guaranteed new law, since neither party opposes mandatory interlock devices. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, is the strongest lobbying force in support of the requirement. The American Beverage Institute, which includes approximately 8,000 restaurants, has come out as a strong voice against the requirement. MADD states that requiring interlock devices, even for first time offenders and low BAC offenders, will reduce drunk driving deaths and save thousands of lives. The American Beverage Institute contends that mandatory interlock devices remove a judge’s ability to distinguish between a repeat offender who is a threat to other drivers and someone who is low risk. The group does support states using the interlock device for those who are repeat offenders or who have high BAC.
Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center, a civil rights group, was concerned about the federal government exercising this much power over an area that states are already taking responsibility for. 42 states already have provisions in their laws covering use of interlock devices, leading Boldin to think that the federal government does not need to intervene. Boldin told FoxNews.com that he is concerned about where these exercises of power could lead: “Every time we set that precedent that the federal government can mandate on the states certain rules or regulations, then the next time that something bigger comes up — perhaps a health care mandate — then there’s already the building blocks for this type of power that’s been allowed in the past.”
Depending on whose numbers you trust, this measure will either be cost-neutral, save states money, or cost upwards of $430 million. Considering the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data suggests that the average BAC for a drunk driving causing a fatality is over twice the legal limit at .19, requiring a device that needs monthly maintenance, plus monitoring by a parole-type officer, a logical person could conclude that the requirement will be a financial burden for most states.
What do you think? Let us know, and more importantly, let your elected representatives know!