Proposed legislation could require first-time OVI offenders to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles, but local officials are split in their support of the measure.
House Bill 469 has been named “Annie’s Law,” for 36-year-old Annie Rooney of Chillicothe, a prosecuting attorney who was killed in July 2013 by a drunk driver who had been arrested three times, with one conviction for OVI and two plea deals for lesser charges.
The current law allows judges to order use of the ignition interlocks, which require drivers to blow into a device that measures blood-alcohol levels before starting the vehicle. The devices are required for those offenders convicted of OVI twice in six years. House Bill 469 would make it mandatory for first-time offenders as well.
A driver must register a blood-alcohol content of less than .025, less than half the legal limit of .08, to start the ignition.
“Any law that keeps people from drinking and driving is going to assist in making our neighborhoods safer,” said Ashtabula County Sheriff William R. Johnson. “There’s nothing good about drinking and driving.”
Johnson said there has to be something that will work effectively to deter people from drinking and driving, and this legislation is a step in the right direction.
Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nick Iarocci said he is in favor of the measure as long as it is affordable.
Generally, there is a $100 hook-up fee and an additional $80 per month charge, which is paid by the offender. However, Iarocci said there are a substantial number of offenders that don’t have sufficient funds to pay for it.
The courts have a special “interlock” fund to pay for the devices if need be, but Iarocci said there probably is not sufficient funds to pay for all offenders if this legislation is passed.
“As law enforcement officials, how could we be against it?” Iarocci asked. “It makes the streets safer. The cost factor is my only concern.”
The Ohio Judicial Conference has opposed the bill citing a reduction in judicial discretion, and it was pulled last week from an expected committee vote in the Ohio House.
Eastern County Court Judge Robert Wynn said he thinks the proposed bill is a bit much.
“There are a lot of people that get one conviction and never get another one,” he said.
Wynn said there were concerns years ago that someone other than the convicted offender could blow into the device to activate. However, he believes there are features now that eliminate those concerns.
Lake County attorney Glen Forbes agreed with Wynn, in that, the legislation might be overkill.
“There are all sorts of situation where people find themselves in a first-time OVI offense,” he said. “We’ve reduced the amount of alcohol of the legal limit and stiffened the penalties.”
Forbes said .08 is not “falling down drunk and being unable to function.” He said for some people, getting one OVI conviction is enough for them to never drink and drive again.
“It depends on the attitude,” he said. “There can be good arguments made on both sides.”