I watched our lawmakers in action this year. I have watched for several years, as the men and women we have elected try to enact laws on our behalf work to create a better, safer Maryland. I took a personal interest in this process after my 18 year old daughter, Alisa, was killed at the hands of a drunken driver. This year, as in years past, I have testified before the Senate and House along side representatives of MADD, AAA, the Maryland State Police, members of the Shock Trauma Team and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in favor of some powerful legislation that would make it tougher to drink and drive in Maryland. And year after year I have watched as this legislation is shot down. One blaring consistency to these failures seems to be the actions of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., a defense attorney.
On Monday, the last day of this legislative session, a dear friend of mine and I sat in the Judiciary Committee hoping above hopes that the chairman would call for the members to vote on the Eliminate Drunk Driving Act of 2010. This bill, which passed the Senate unanimously after an amendment to exclude cases ending in probation before judgment, would call for all convicted drunk drivers to drive with an interlock device in their car for a period of time. This device would prevent them from doing only one thing — drinking and driving. Studies have shown that this device could change the behavior of drunk drivers, not to punish, but rather to condition them to drive sober. It is working in 12 other states, and is proven to save lives!
The last precious minutes ticked by on Monday night, and it quickly became clear that Chairman Vallario was refusing to allow the committee members to vote on this bill. He handed out an envelope regarding this bill to each of the committee members at the end of the session, stating that they had done everything they could do to try to reach an agreement but had failed. The bill's sponsor, Del. Ben Kramer asked Chairman Vallario if this were, indeed, the truth. "Did we really do everything? Lets vote on it." This request was followed by other requests by committee members to put the bill up for a vote. Chairman Vallario blatantly ignored the requests of his committee.
It is criminal that the actions of one person could block important legislation year after year that could save lives. You see, Chairman Vallario seems to have made it his full time career to defend drunken drivers, even when he is in Annapolis in his role as the Judiciary Committee Chairman, a committee responsible for creating and passing laws that will protect all Marylanders, not just the ones who chose to drink and drive! This reign must end!
Paula Celentano, Glen Burnie