A proposal to curb Maine’s worst drivers moved forward this week in the Maine Legislature as a committee gave its solid endorsement to “Tina’s Law,” which is named for a woman killed in an accident involving a trucker with a lengthy record of motor-vehicle offenses.
The 11-0 vote by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee enhances its chances of passage when it reaches the full Legislature. Two committee members who had yet to vote on the measure were expected to join the majority, said its co-chairman, Sen. William Diamond.
The bill that emerged from committee was revised from its original version after concerns were raised about mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders and provisions calling for impoundment of vehicles used by drivers with lengthy records.
In the end, the impoundment provision was scrapped because “logistically it was almost impossible to make it work,” said Diamond, D-Windham.
Committee members also decided that impounding vehicles could impose a hardship on the families of targeted motorists by taking away the only means of transportation innocent relatives might have for work, school and other activities, said Evert Fowle, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties.
The final version of the bill also redefines which drivers are to be affected by mandatory minimum sentences.
“We’re focusing on the worst of the worst,” said Fowle, who participated in the crafting of the legislation as president of the Maine Prosecutors Association.
Agreeing to a final version required trade-offs and compromises on a number of issues, leaving almost no one completely happy with the outcome, said Walter McKee, an Augusta attorney who represented the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. McKee’s group and the prosecutors shared a concern over the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences.
“A lot of people held their noses and voted for it because it’s a good compromise,” said Rep. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, a member of the committee.
The legislation is named in memory of Tina Turcotte of Scarborough, who was killed when her car was rear-ended on the Maine Turnpike by a truck driven by a man with a record of 63 motor vehicle-related convictions, 23 license suspensions and a fatal rash in 1994. The trucker, Scott Hewitt, faces manslaughter and several other charges in connection with the July 29 accident.
The fatality prompted Gov. John Baldacci to muster a task force looking at the problem of repeat offenders continuing to drive, and promises of legislation. A separate bill sponsored by Rep. Walter Ash, D-Belfast, would require businesses that hire commercial truck drivers to make sure the driver has a valid license and a record of safe driving.
Ash’s bill, which was reviewed by the Transportation Committee, is working its way through the House and Senate. It has been amended to include Maine in a federal motor-carrier registry that makes driver information available.
The bill endorsed by the criminal justice committee sets new mandatory minimum sentences for operating after suspension, Diamond said. It creates a new crime of aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation.
It also directs the secretary of state to take action to retrieve suspended licenses, and directs Maine sheriffs to study the impact the changes will have on county jail populations.
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