The News-Star, Monroe, La., on DWI laws still need improvemen
The News-Star, Monroe, La., on DWI laws still need improvement:
The best way to improve the quality of life for everyone in Louisiana should be fairly simple: Fix the driving-while-intoxicated laws and enforce them.
Here in the land where good times always roll (often through a daiquiri drive-thru); where three-, four- and five-time offenders drive around legally and dangerously; and where people who can afford the right kind of legal counsel (i.e., the politically connected kind) are not prosecuted for their crimes — here in Louisiana we need laws and enforcement that are up to the stiff challenges caused by drivers who are drunk or otherwise impaired.
With that said, we are encouraged to know that a panel of lawmakers has been preparing recommendations that, if passed during the 2014 legislative session, will clarify existing laws and update them to include the full range of substances that are abused.
Far fewer states allow an offender to have multiple third convictions. (You read that correctly: In Louisiana, you can be a three-time offender more than once.) The laws must address that, too.
Last week, the panel of lawmakers reported to the Governor’s Task Force on DWI-Vehicular Homicide. In an interview later, Chairman Douglas J. Saloom, a Lafayette city judge, spoke of the panel’s work, including a proposal to rewrite the law regarding drivers under 21 who are convicted of operating under the influence.
Referring to them and the current law, Saloom said: “If we could put in writing what a slap on the wrist sounds like, it would be less than that.”
Louisiana law says an under-21 first-time offender is subject to a fine of $100 to $250 and is required to participate in court-approved substance-abuse and driver-training programs. The panel recommends keeping the fine; adding jail time of 10 days to three months; and increasing the severity of the penalties for subsequent violations.
In November, when the panel met with the task force, it addressed another gap.
When someone convicted of impaired driving is released early from prison for good behavior, Saloom said at the time, the offender is still a prisoner even though he or she is no longer behind bars. Offenders who are released early cannot be sent back to jail for violating the terms of probation, he said, because probation does not start until the sentence ends.
The panel has recommended amending the law to make release and probation start simultaneously.
We hope these recommendations and others will be well received by lawmakers. Louisiana has made some progress in the fight against impaired driving. That must continue.