New Mary­land laws go into ef­fect to­day

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Dresser

A new Mary­land law ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of a po­lice of­fi­cer killed by a drunken mo­torist will re­quire any­one con­victed of drunken driv­ing to in­stall an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock device.

“Noah’s Law” is one of 300 bills passed by the Gen­eral As­sem­bly this year that be­come law to­day.

Named af­ter Mont­gomery County po­lice Of­fi­cer Noah Leotta, the mea­sure is seen as the most im­por­tant stiff­en­ing of Mary­land’s drunken-driv­ing laws in sev­eral years. It makes in­stal­la­tion of an ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock — which pre­vents a ve­hi­cle from start­ing if the driver has con­sumed al­co­hol — manda­tory even for first of­fend­ers.

“It’s a huge vic­tory,” said Chuck Hur­ley, leg­isla­tive chair­man for MADD Mary­land. “It’s a break­through that will lead to dra­matic re­duc­tions in drunk-driv­ing fa­tal­i­ties.”

The mea­sure passed dur­ing a leg­isla­tive

ses­sion that saw sig­nif­i­cant bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on crim­i­nal jus­tice leg­is­la­tion, de­spite clashes be­tween the Demo­cratic lead­ers of the leg­is­la­ture and Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan on spending.

The Jus­tice Rein­vest­ment Act, a sweep­ing re­form of state crim­i­nal jus­tice laws, is aimed at re­duc­ing the prison pop­u­la­tion while im­prov­ing pub­lic safety. It changes Mary­land’s ap­proach on such mat­ters as sen­tenc­ing, pa­role and pro­ba­tion, and drug treat­ment. Money saved by re­duc­ing the num­ber of prison­ers will be redi­rected to crime pre­ven­tion pro­grams.

Other mea­sures also take ef­fect, rang­ing from pro­tec­tions for bees to al­low­ing golf carts to op­er­ate on state roads in the Som­er­set County town of Cr­is­field.

Di­vorce will be­come eas­ier in un­con­tested cases. Small-stakes home poker games, ubiq­ui­tous but un­law­ful, will gain le­gal sanc­tion. And car­mak­ers will be pro­hib­ited from re­tal­i­at­ing against deal­ers who tell cus­tomers about man­u­fac­tur­ing de­fects.

“The law lets deal­ers do what they ought to do: Stand up for the safety of their cus­tomers,” said Jack Fitzger­ald, pres­i­dent of Fitzger­ald Auto Malls and a sup­porter of the leg­is­la­tion.

The new drunken-driv­ing law re­places a mea­sure that re­quired ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices for sec­ond and sub­se­quent of­fend­ers but left it to the dis­cre­tion of a judge in most cases in­volv­ing first of­fend­ers. Drunken driv­ers whose blood-al­co­hol level reg­is­tered at twice the le­gal limit are cur­rently re­quired to in­stall ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock de­vices.

Moth­ers Against Drunk Driv­ing and other ad­vo­cates had tried to strengthen that law for many years but had been thwarted in the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Their effort gained new im­pe­tus af­ter Leotta, who was on an as­sign­ment to look for drunken driv­ers, was struck while out of his cruiser Dec. 3, 2015, by a car driven by Luis Gus­tavo Reluzco of Ol­ney, who was in­tox­i­cated at the time.

Leotta, 24, died a week later at a Bethesda hospi­tal. Reluzco, a 47-year-old re­peat drunken driver, pleaded guilty to ve­hic­u­lar man­slaugh­ter in May. He could re­ceive a prison term of up to 10 years and is due to be sen­tenced Oct. 27.

Hur­ley said that af­ter Leotta’s death, pro­po­nents of the ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock bill — in­clud­ing spon­sors Del. Ben Kramer and state Sen. Jamie Raskin, both Mont­gomery County Democrats — ap­proached the of­fi­cer’s par­ents and sought per­mis­sion to call the mea­sure “Noah’s Law.”

Richard Leotta and his wife, Mar­cia Gold­man, agreed. “This was a way of con­tin­u­ing his work, con­tin­u­ing his effort to stop the scourge of drunk driv­ing,” Richard Leotta said. “It’s a way of chan­nel­ing our grief in a pos­i­tive way.”

Sup­port­ers mounted a cam­paign to pres­sure law­mak­ers to pass the bill, beat­ing back an effort to water it down in House of Del­e­gates com­mit­tee. The mea­sure passed with over­whelm­ing sup­port and was signed by Ho­gan.

Hur­ley, a former na­tional chief ex­ec­u­tive of MADDwho­has lob­bied for the or­ga­ni­za­tion across the coun­try, said it took seven years to win pas­sage of the bill in Mary­land. This year, he said, pub­lic pres­sure made it im­pos­si­ble for law­mak­ers to refuse to act.

“Mary­land is the tough­est place to make progress on drunk driv­ing I’ve ever been in,” Hur­ley said. “This law should have been passed seven years ago. It might have saved many lives. It might have saved Noah’s life.”

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