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By Terri Hallenbeck, Free Press Staff Writer
MONTPELIER — Well aware that a heart-wrenching death in Burlington has renewed public attention in the issue, legislators Tuesday started the process of considering changes to the state’s drunken driving laws.
“We were committed to DUI legislation before that,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg. “We are even more committed to it after that.”
He was referring to the Dec. 26 death of 43-year- old Kaye Borneman in Burlington in which police allege that Timothy Dowd, 52, of Hinesburg plowed into her car while fleeing from police and driving drunk. Charges against Dowd are being raised to second-degree murder, authorities said Tuesday.
Lippert, describing the issue as “one of our top priorities,” said he didn’t yet know what sort of legislation might come out of his committee. “As far as I’m concerned, everything is on the table,” he said.
His committee started Tuesday by poring over existing drunken-driving laws and penalties with legislative lawyer Erik Fitzpatrick.
Among the issues Dowd’s case has raised is whether penalties should be increased for attempting to elude an officer, now a misdemeanor with up to a one-year prison sentence.
Last year, legislation passed that will allow those convicted of drunken-driving to get their licenses back earlier if they use an ignition lock device that prevents the car from running if the driver is intoxicated. That law will take effect July 1.
Lippert contended that legislation passed over the years has decreased the number of fatalities and that more can be done.
“Drunk driving is something, I think, we can bring an end to,” he said.
The House committee isn’t the only one working on changes to the state’s drunken driving laws.
Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling has convened a group that will make recommendations to legislators, Lippert said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton, and Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin, are working to revive legislation that started after a 2007 crash in which a drunken driver with a suspended license going the wrong way on Interstate 89 killed 18-year-old Nick Fournier of Swanton.
For three years, Fournier’s family and friends have pushed for “Nick’s Law,” legislation that would increase penalties against repeat drunk driving offenders and make it a crime to loan a car to a person with a suspended license who is drunk. Savage said the group of supporters met over the weekend to consider changes that might remove the biggest stumbling block to its passage — mandatory prison sentences.
Savage said he talked Tuesday to Borneman’s brother, who pledged his support for the legislation.
Nick’s Law supporters are scheduled to hold their annual rally Feb. 15 in the Statehouse, Savage said.
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 651-4887 or firstname.lastname@example.org