When Texas lawmakers meet for the next legislative session in a few weeks they will consider several new laws aimed at getting tougher on DWI offenders.
Now two controversial ideas are being pitched in order to crack down on drunk driving. Legislation to allow for police check points and ignition locks for first offender's sparked debate at the state capitol Monday morning.
No refusal weekends are the closest thing to checkpoints in Texas right now. The first step in drafting legislation to allow police to set up the controversial road blocks took place in capitol extension committee hearing room. To get the idea out of committee during the 83rd regular session, it's generally understood any checkpoint bill would at least have to include guidelines that protect civil rights.
House Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Pete Gallego admits the idea may be controversial, but for him there is a crisis that must be addressed.
"Punishing them afterwards doesn't bring back any victim doesn't make any family feel better the idea is to stop the DWI before it happens," said the Democrat from Alpine.
Also getting cracked up again is requiring ignition locks for first time offenders. The idea failed in last session.
Under current law, judges are required to order the locks for repeat offenders and also in cases of intoxication assault and manslaughter as well as a condition for probation.
There are 18 states that currently have the ignition interlock requirement for first time drunk drivers. Enacting a similar law in Texas triggered a pre-session debate during the committee hearing.
"So why do we need a new law?" asked TX Rep Jose Aliseda ( R ) Beeville.
"I'm not sure we need a new law," answered Rodney Thompson who represents state probation officers.
In his testimony, Thompson argued that upgrading the interlock law, even with offenders paying for the device, may not be cost effective because of the extra work load for probation officers.
"It requires an officer to go out and to do this kind of public safety work to make sure everything is done correctly," said Thompson who believes the money and time could be better used tracking higher risk individuals.
Bill Lewis with Mothers Against Drunk Driving testified in support of a tougher law.
"We heard it in there this morning, if you cants stop that first offense then by golly we can stop the second offense," said Lewis who went on to say,
"We all talk about cost well you want to talk about cost, just go over to the emergency room at Brackenridge and talk to those folks about cost."
A final report from the hearing will be drafted with recommendations for new members of the committee who will be appointed after the session begins in January.