Monday, December 16, 2013

Hedlund Named Legislator of the Year by MADD

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) has named Senator Robert L. Hedlund their 2013 “Legislator of the Year” in Massachusetts for his legislative contributions to the fight against drunk driving. David Deiuliis, with M.A.D.D.’s Massachusetts State Office, presented Senator Hedlund with the award at the State House.  In their announcement, M.A.D.D. National President Jan Withers thanked Senator Hedlund for authoring legislation improving drunk driving laws in Massachusetts, including Senator Hedlund's pending legislation requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.

Hedlund has been an active and effective anti-drunk driving legislator over the past decade. In 2005, he was the lead Senate sponsor of “Melanie’s Law,” the landmark legislation that was the first major reform of our state’s drunk driving laws in decades. Under Melanie’s Law, repeat drunk drivers who are still eligible to drive have to have an ignition interlock device installed in any vehicle they drive. Melanie’s Law also doubled sentences for motor vehicle manslaughter, created a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail for anyone convicted of driving drunk with a suspended license, increased license suspension for refusal of the Breathalyzer, created a new child endangerment by OUI offense, and increased penalties for knowingly allowing someone under a license suspension for drunken driving to use an automobile.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving deaths in Massachusetts have fallen over 20% since the passage of Melanie’s Law.

Last year, Senator Hedlund helped pass an amendment in the Senate to strengthen Melanie’s Law by closing a loophole that allows repeat drunk drivers who admit to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty avoid license revocation because their admission was not considered a conviction. The amendment for license revocation included repeat drunk drivers assigned to an alcohol or controlled substance education, treatment, or rehabilitation program. While the wording included in the final conference committee budget wasn’t as strong as the Hedlund amendment, it was another step in helping to prevent recidivism.

This year, Senator Hedlund has filed legislation aimed at closing loopholes within Melanie’s Law that drunk drivers have used to avoid responsibility and punishment. If enacted, the bill, which is entitled “An Act relative to enhancing Melanie's Law,” would; 1) make it more difficult for repeat drunk drivers to escape the harsher penalties contained in Melanie’s Law; 2) remove the ability for drivers acquitted of drunk driving who refused a breathalyzer test from applying to get their license back immediately instead of serving the mandated 180-day suspension; 3) ensure that the sentences of repeat offenders are served consecutively, not concurrently, and; 4) would give judges the ability to sentence habitual drunk drivers to up to 20 years in jail.

“Drunk driving is one of the biggest threats to public safety and we must remain vigilant to continue the progress we have made in our fight to prevent it,” said Hedlund. “I am honored to receive this award and I am committed to continuing to make our drunk driving laws stronger  and more effective.”