PHOENIX — Words like rehabilitative, redemption, and compassionate are not often used when the topic is criminal punishment.
However, that discussion is taking place in the Arizona Legislature. But, SB 1334, a bill that lessens restrictions on DUI offenders, is evoking those sentiments.
According to the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, 4,410 motorists were arrested for DUI so far this year.
Seventy-five percent of those motorists were arrested for alcohol intoxication. "As soon as you get an interlock on a vehicle it ceases to be a weapon," said Kevin Demenna, a lobbyist for the Coalition of Interlock Manufacturers, during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Interlock is a breath-analyzing device wired to a vehicle's ignition. Before a vehicle can start, the driver must exhale into the device. If it detects alcohol, the engine won't start.
The interlock industry reports 30,000 interlock systems are in use across Arizona at any given time.
"It allows them to get these devices that we know prevent them from driving drunk in their vehicle faster. That to me is compassionate to someone who lost a loved one because we know this person while driving is not intoxicated," said the bill's sponsor State Senator Tyler Pace (R) Mesa-District 23.
Senator Pace's bill is moving quickly through the legislature. It allows drivers who commit a first-time DUI offense to voluntarily request an interlock restricted driver's license from ADOT prior to their conviction. Speeding up the process by weeks.
Time on the interlock device translates to time served on the sentence. "This bill is important because in practicality those devices work better than waiting or sitting at home." Pace stated.
There was very little opposition to the bill when it was in committee. But Judith Brown, who lost her father to an intoxicated driver questions the need for leniency. "First and repeated criminals need to be held accountable to the full extent of the law," Brown said. "Protecting our rights and safety is your job."
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers supports the bill, sending a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Walter Blackman citing various state and national studies endorsing the effectiveness of the interlock system. "We think this is another cap on preventing someone from continuing to drive drunk," said Tania Bustamante, the Arizona State Executive Director of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Drivers charged with aggravated DUI and repeat offenders will not be able to apply early for an interlock system.
The bill awaits a vote in the House of Representatives. If it's approved, it will go to the Governor's desk for his signature.