Lawmakers Suggest Challenging State’s New DWI Law
Published: August 3rd, 2010
By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH – The Chenango County Safety and Rules Committee has asked the county’s attorney to consider entering into a lawsuit being spearheaded by Wayne County against New York State for requiring it to mandate Leandra’s Law, a state law that some are calling another unfunded mandate.

The legislation, passed in November, makes any DWI charge with children in the vehicle a felony offense and anyone convicted of DWI at all, including first-time offenders, to have an ignition interlock system installed into their vehicle for a minimum of six months, as determined by a judge.

The first part of Leandra’s Law went into effect in January. The latter, and more controversial part, goes into effect Aug. 15.

By default, all counties’ probation departments are expected to enforce DWI felons’ compliance with what is essentially a breathalyzer that controls an auto’s ignition system. The system requires the driver to take repeated tests for every 20 minutes of driving. If failed, the vehicle would slow to a stop and not be able to start again. The interlock system would send a report to the manufacturer who, in turn, would send it to the county’s probation departments.

Chenango County Director of Probation Laureen J. Clarke told members of Safety & Rules in July that she would need to add a full-time officer’s assistant next year in order to handle the extra work. She estimates that the legislation would triple the number of cases coming through her department.

“Chairman Decker agreed it would be a burden,” she said, upon requesting the new position.

There were 28 offenders on probation for DWI in 2008 and 78 on conditional discharge. Based on those statistics, Clarke said probation could conceivably get 40 cases between now and Dec. 31.

“Conditional discharge cases never come to us. (They are currently dealt with by the local courts.) But, they will now all fall to us. We’ve always monitored felony probation cases and now we will have to monitor misdemeanor probation as well as conditional discharges. In the case of ignition interlock, will now be our agency that has to get involved in enforcing that order,” she said.

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