Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Md. lawmakers on same side of issue tangle over interlock law

By Kate Ryan @KateRyanWTOP

WASHINGTON — A Maryland panel that has been criticized for not doing enough to pass drunk driving laws defended its record on the same day police from all over the state came to testify on a bill to toughen restrictions on people convicted of drunk driving.

As he opened the hearing on a number of bills including one named for a Montgomery County police officer killed after being struck by a suspected drunk driver, Del. Joe Vallario, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a Democrat representing Prince George’s County, told those attending that it was wrong to assume he did not care about the dangers of drunk driving.

“I’m concerned, you’re concerned, we’re all concerned,” he told the attendees.

Del. Ben Kramer — a Democrat representing Montgomery County — is the sponsor of a bill to call for putting interlock devices in the cars of anyone convicted of drunk driving — not just those who record a .15 on a breathalyzer. Kramer seemed to suggest that there was an unseen obstacle to toughening Maryland’s laws on drunk driving.

Using sometimes graphic language, Kramer told the committee, “We’ve got to stop treating these gruesome tragedies that tear limbs from bodies and flesh from bones, as the cost of doing business for the liquor industry!”

Del. Kathleen Dumais — a Democrat representing Montgomery County — co-chairs the Judiciary Committee and has co-sponsored Noah’s Law, the bill named for the late Montgomery County officer Noah Leotta. She took exception to Kramer’s final statement when he said, “Let’s tell our residents we looked the liquor lobby in the eye and told them ‘Kiss my a##!”

Dumais replied, “The insinuation that in some way any of us are tied to the liquor lobby is inappropriate, and ought to be taken back.”

“The liquor lobby has nothing to do with the reason why I vote one way or the other. And I imagine my other committee members would say the same,” Dumais added.

At the start of the Maryland General Assembly session, Mothers Against Drunk Driving identified the Judiciary Committee as a roadblock in getting interlock legislation expanded in the state. But Dumais says this year, the chances are good that Noah’s Law will not only clear the committee, but pass the general assembly as well.

Asked why she thought the bill would get out of committee when other bills failed, Dumais noted the death of Officer Leotta and the deaths of two teenagers — Calvin Li and Alex Murk — after an underage drinking party.

“It is awful that tragedies often move things forward,” she said.

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