Raleigh, N.C. — The House overwhelmingly approved Tuesday two measures to toughen penalties on people convicted of impaired driving.
House Bill 40 would move the trigger for a habitual impaired driving charge from three previous driving while impaired convictions with a 10-year period to two convictions. The measure passed 115-3.
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said the legislation is the first of five bills he's sponsoring to tighten up North Carolina's DWI laws. He estimated that the quicker trigger would put an extra 180 people in prison within two years, which he said would make North Carolina roads safer.
"We can't prevent every one of these fatalities, but we can make a difference," Jackson said.
House Bill 31, which passed 108-10, would allow prosecutors to file a habitual DWI charge against anyone previously convicted on such a charge, regardless of how long ago the earlier conviction occurred.
Co-sponsor Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph. cited a Winston-Salem case in which a man convicted of habitual DWI served 17 years of a 40-year sentence for killing three people in a wreck and later faced misdemeanor DWI charges because more than 10 years had passed since his earlier conviction.
"We should know if you've had five or six or seven or eight DWIs," said co-sponsor Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford. "Name me one law in the world that you can kill a family and nobody goes back and looks."
Reps. Duane Hall, D-Wake, and Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, said they thought the bill was too harsh and needed to be rethought.
"It could be a very young person who made a mistake and then has a family and has done everything right for 30 or 40 years," Hall said.
"I'm not one who believes that drunk drivers ought to be on the road," Michaux said. "But those who have tried to make restitution, those who have served their time, those who have tried to do the right thing, why, maybe 30 years down the road, when they get picked up again should they have to go through this."
Other lawmakers said, however, that North Carolina needs to get tougher on DWI, noting that it's already difficult to obtain convictions.
"It is something that we should have zero tolerance for in this state," said Rep. Allen McNeill, R-Randolph. "No one has the right to get drunk, drive down the road and put your family or my family in jeopardy."
The House also unanimously approved a bill that would allow blood samples taken at hospitals in DWI cases to be used in court cases as long as the hospitals complied with certain rules. Rep. Tim Moore, R-Union, said the legislation is needed because the state crime lab is backlogged in such cases.
All three measures now move to the Senate.