Del. Don H. Dwyer Jr., convicted twice of alcohol-related offenses over the past two years, urged fellow lawmakers Wednesday to approve his bill requiring mandatory minimum sentences for officials convicted of drunken driving.
The Anne Arundel County Republican was one of two witnesses in favor of the bill at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. He argued that elected officials who violate the law should be punished more severely than ordinary citizens.
"You are held to a higher standard, and you are not an average Joe," was the message the judge in Dwyer's case delivered to him, the lawmaker told the committee.
Dwyer was sentenced in October to spend 30 weekends in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center after he was convicted of drunken driving. Earlier, he had been convicted of drunken boating after a 2012 crash that left six people injured.
The legislation Dwyer is proposing would require that high-ranking public officials be sentenced to 60 days or 30 weekends for drunken-driving violations — even on a first offense. The measure also would require the official to undergo both inpatient and outpatient alcohol rehabilitation programs and to have an ignition interlock system installed in his or her vehicle for 18 months.
The measure would apply to the governor and other statewide elected officials, members of the General Assembly, judges, state's attorneys and sheriffs. Other provisions would bar convicted officials from entering an establishment that serves alcohol or attending a political event where alcohol is present for three years.
Dwyer said the provisions of the bill mirror the terms of his sentence. He said he has benefited from the programs he was required to participate in and thought others could, too.
The legislation ran into what could be insurmountable opposition from the Maryland Judicial Conference, which represents the state's judges. In written testimony, the judiciary warned that the bill "raises constitutional concerns" because it penalizes state officials differently from average citizens.
"I am aware of the constitutional conflict this bill presents," Dwyer said. He said the judiciary's position seems at odds with the way he was treated in court.
Early in the current legislative session, Dwyer was stripped of all committee assignments as a result of his second offense. After his first offense, he was removed from the Judiciary Committee, which hears drunken-driving bills, and assigned to the Ways and Means Committee.
Dwyer is seeking re-election but faces challengers in the June 24 GOP primary.
The other witness testifying in support of the bill — but only if it were heavily amended — was Meagan Simonaire, one of Dwyer's primary opponents. She said holding elected officials to a higher standard was a good idea but that Dwyer's bill was not well thought out.