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Maryland House approves mandatory ignition locks for convicted drunk drivers

Rich Leotta holds a news conference Thursday outside the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis to implore lawmakers to pass the original version of Noah’s Law, a bill named for his son that requires first-time convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks on their vehicles. His son, Noah Leotta, was a Montgomery County police officer who was killed by a drunk driver in December. Leotta is joined by his niece, Sophie Leotta, and his wife, Marcia Goldman.
Rich Leotta holds a news conference Thursday outside the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis to implore lawmakers to pass the original version of Noah’s Law, a bill named for his son that requires first-time convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks on their vehicles. His son, Noah Leotta, was a Montgomery County police officer who was killed by a drunk driver in December. Leotta is joined by his niece, Sophie Leotta, and his wife, Marcia Goldman. (Pamela Wood / The Baltimore Sun)

Every convicted drunk driver in Maryland would be required to get an ignition interlock system for at least six months under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by the Maryland House of Delegates.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where a key committee chairman Tuesday evening instructed his colleagues to come up with an even stronger version of the bill.

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Anti-drunk-driving advocates have pushed for years to give Maryland among the country's strictest rules for keeping convicted drunk drivers away from the wheel.

This year, the high-profile killing of police officer Noah Leotta, 24, by a repeat drunk driver in December and his family's subsequent advocacy helped fuel a groundswell of public support, said bill sponsor Del. Benjamin F. Kramer of Montgomery County.

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Tuesday's vote was significant not only for its passage, but for support from House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario, who has in the past objected to such broad use of the costly interlock systems that prevent drivers from starting a car unless they pass a breathalyzer test.

Vallario, a Prince George's County Democrat, rose to urge his colleagues to pass the bill Tuesday morning, first pointing out that Maryland already ranks among the top states for requiring the technology and then saying "this bill will help save lives."

Later Tuesday, Judicial Proceedings Chairman Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, described the House bill as too "weak" and instructed a work group to "make it strong."

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article. 

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