MONTPELIER — In effort to decrease the number of drivers who operate vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the House Judiciary Committee on Friday approved a bill that would toughen sanctions on multiple DUI offenders. Lawmakers say they’re aiming to put an end to tragedies like the death of Nick Fournier, an 18-year-old killed by a repeat drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 89 in 2008, and Kaye Borneman, a woman killed last December by a multiple DUI offender. “I think people are very concerned about repeat offenders, and when you have a tragedy like what happened to Nick and Kaye, it draws attention to the problem,” said Rep. Maxine Grad, a Moretown Democrat and vice-chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 23 people died in alcohol-related traffic accidents Vermont in 2009 — nearly one-third of all driving fatalities that year. Legislation passed Friday calls for lengthier prison sentences and stiffer fines for repeat offenders, and would require even first-time offenders to undergo substance-abuse counseling. It also targets individuals who lend their vehicle to someone they know has been drinking. Rep. Brian Savage, a Swanton Republican who introduced the bill this year, was a lifelong friend of Fournier. Savage’s daughter and Fournier went to preschool together. He, along with Fournier’s family and friends, came to the Statehouse to testify in favor of the bill. “These people are getting away with it and it’s time we got tough and cracked down,” said Savage. In 2009, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, prosecutors in Vermont charged more than 6,000 people with their third DUI offense; 833 people were arraigned for their fifth drunken-driving charge. Though the proposed legislation stops short of imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences on repeat DUI offenders, it aims to ramp up jail terms through a series of advisory guidelines to Vermont judges. For example, someone convicted of killing or injuring someone while committing their second drunk-driving offense would have to serve at least five years in jail, unless a judge found reason to reject the advised minimum sentence. Under current law, offenders can sometimes avoid imprisonment by performing community service or taking drug and alcohol classes. In past years, advocates of similar DUI bills had pushed for strict sentencing guidelines rather than advisory ones, such as those in this bill. Rep. Bill Lippert, a Hinesburg Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the mandatory minimums don’t leave room for extenuating circumstances in which a lesser sentence might be warranted. The bill also increases fines on DUI offenders. “We are trying to be smarter about how to handle repeat DUI offenders,” Lippert said. Lawmakers included provisions that would require people convicted of a DUI to attend substance-abuse therapy. Since law-enforcement can’t be all places all the time, Grad said, lawmakers are looking to attack the root cause of multiple DUI crimes — alcoholism. “We recognize that people are going to continue to drive, especially in a rural state,” Grad said. “You are not always going to get everybody.” The bill also requires the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety to issue a joint report by January 2012 that outlines additional penalties and treatment options to stop repeat DUI offenders. Some of the proposed treatment options include a sobriety program, like one that has been implemented in South Dakota, in which individuals on probation are required to report twice a day every day to local law enforcement for substance-abuse testing. “You are sentencing people to sobriety,” said Lippert. “This is going to be a continuing effort to try to find smart and effective ways to keep highways safe from those under the influence” jenna.pizzi

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