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Drunk Driving a Focus for Texas State Legislature’s Spring 2011 Session

Texas legislators began the spring 2011 legislative session vowing to pass new, more stringent drunk driving laws in the wake of several drunk driving accidents in the state. However, by the time the session was over, lawmakers had managed to agree on only one of the proposed bills.

Lawmakers did send the Abdallah Khader Act to Gov. Perry’s desk for him to sign into law. The Act is named for a two-year-old boy who is in a vegetative state after an alleged repeat-offender drunk driver hit his parents’ car. The new Act would make intoxication assault a second degree felony if the victim is left in a vegetative state, increasing the possible prison time from 10 years to 20. Additionally, the Act increases driving while intoxicated (DWI) with a B.A.C. above .15 percent to a class A misdemeanor, making the maximum penalty one year in prison, as opposed to the previous six-month maximum jail term.

The bills that legislators did not pass covered a variety of aspects involved with drunk driving and the penalties for the offense. Some lawmakers wanted to crack down on penalties for first time offenders, with one bill that would have required first-time DWI offenders to have ignition interlock devices in their cars and another bill that would have required first-time DWI offenders to wear alcohol-monitoring devices for 60 days. A third bill would have revoked the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a second DWI offense.

Legislators also proposed a bill allowing police to establish temporary sobriety checkpoints to help find those driving drunk. Lawmakers were particularly concerned with allowing police to stop boaters to check that the drivers were sober, as the accidents on lakes tend to have severe repercussions.

Finally, some lawmakers wanted to institute a deferred adjudication program for first-time offenders, wherein the court would not issue a final judgment for the defendant if the defendant agreed to abide by the terms of probation. At the end of the probation period, the defendant would not have a DWI charge on his or her record. However, the program would have allowed for a judge to enhance a sentence based on participation in the deferred adjudication program should the defendant re-offend.

Even though only one of the proposed bills passed, the sheer number of laws that lawmakers discussed during the legislative session reveals that authorities are focusing on drunk driving and looking to increase the penalties for the offense. In light of the new attitude of intolerance for those suspected of drunk driving, it is important for those facing drunk driving charges to seek legal representation to ensure that their rights do not get steamrolled by over-zealous law enforcement personnel.

Source: Talk was tough, but Texas DWI legislation largely went nowhere