NJ Senate panel OKs bills that get tough with repeat DUI offenders

| 12/3/2009

With the end of the regular session in New Jersey less than six weeks away, a legislative package designed to crack down on motorists who are repeatedly caught driving under the influence or with a suspended license is getting a late push.

The Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee voted to advance two bills to the full Senate that intend to make Garden State roadways a little safer.

Senate President Richard Codey, D-Essex, has had enough with habitual drunken drivers. Codey said he was spurred to action after a Morris Township, NJ, crash in April, which was caused by a man whose license has been suspended 78 times.

The first bill – S2939 – to advance from the committee calls for mandatory jail time for anyone caught driving under the influence while already suspended for a DUI or refusal to take a breath test. Convicted offenders would face six months to one year behind bars and up to a $10,000 fine.

New Jersey law now allows for additional suspensions. Repeat offenders face up to five days in jail while third-time offenders face up to 10 days in lockup.

“We need to change our approach to these offenses if we really want to send a wakeup call to repeat offenders,” Codey said in a statement.

Another bill – S2937 – to clear the committee would require mandatory jail time of at least 180 days for those convicted of driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.20 percent or higher if they had been convicted of another DUI within the past five years.

To encourage offenders to participate in inpatient rehabilitation programs, the bill would allow the court to reduce the mandatory term by up to 90 days for taking part in a program.

Currently, state law doesn’t mandate jail time until a third DUI conviction.

The bills are awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, they would advance to the Assembly. All legislation must be approved by both chambers prior to the end of the regular session, which is scheduled for Jan. 11.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.