By David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent
There’s sweeping support statewide — and especially in eastern New Mexico — for legislation that would implement the harshest penalty yet for DWI offenders.
This week, Gov. Bill Richardson threw his support behind a plan that wouldn’t allow DWI offenders to buy alcohol for five years. An offender’s driver’s license would have a marking indicating that they couldn’t purchase alcohol.
It would be the most severe penalty on New Mexico books for DWI offenders.
The idea for the legislation comes from San Juan County District Attorney Greg Tucker. The bill is expected to be introduced in the Legislature next year.
The idea has been discussed in eastern New Mexico circles for at least the last year.
Jordan Strebeck, a 2004 Clovis High School graduate, said the idea was discussed with his fellow Boy State members last year. Boys State is an annual summer event, which has been at Eastern New Mexico University for several years.
“We decided that we were tired of being the laughing stock of the country with DWI,” he said.
Strebeck, 18, who will attend Texas Tech University in the fall, said the group of boys decided there should be no immediate chance for someone to buy alcohol if they got a DWI.
Strebeck shared his plans with Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, and Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher.
“I will sit down with Jordan and flesh the idea out,” Harden said. “I plan to then take the idea to the Legislative Council Services and have them draft a bill.”
Because the strict DWI idea does have support in numerous areas of the state, it’s expected that there will be several similar bills presented in both the House and Senate next year.
Matt Chandler, the incoming 9th Judicial District Attorney, said he would support the new DWI legislation.
“A pro-active approach to stopping the problem is what we need,” Chandler said. “We can’t go wrong with something like this.”
Chandler said he recognized that such legislation would hamper a DWI offender’s rights, but maintained that it was a new and creative way of fighting one of the state’s most visible problems.
“You would be restricting the DWI offender in their liberties,” he said. “And also it would require that every liquor establishment ask for an ID from every person, regardless of their age.”
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, said he saw some challenges in the legislation, but thought it might be a step in the right direction.
“I see challenges with other people buying liquor for someone who can’t,” he said. “Also, let’s say someone who got a DWI wants to buy a bottle of wine and doesn’t plan to drink and drive, should they not be allowed to do that? However, this proposed legislation might not be a bad deal.”
Nancy Harper, a manager of Kelly’s Bar-Grill & Package in Clovis, said it was difficult to know what kind of impact the legislation would have on her business.
Harper did say that she thought not allowing someone to buy alcohol for five years for getting a DWI was a little much.
“Five years kind of sounds like a stuff penalty to me,” she said.
Numerous DWI legislation was approved during the last Legislature session. One of the hottest topics of the session that also carried over into the June Primary had to do with a proposed plan to put ignition interlock systems on all vehicles in the state. The interlock idea failed in the Senate, but is expected to be a real talker leading up to the 2005 Legislature session.
A concern Moore said he has is putting even more law enforcement responsibility on retailers.
He said he’s seeing too many laws being proposed in New Mexico that are aimed at a small percentage of people, but are negatively impacting a huge chunk of the state.
“It seems like we are always hammering law abiding people in an attempt to stop people who are breaking the law,” he said. “I guess we have to live with that, but sometimes it seems like it goes overboard.”