With Albany Hoarding DWI Fines, Counties Can’t Afford Leandra’s Law

leandra_rosado2.jpgLeandra Rosado, 11, was killed last October when a car driven by an allegedly drunk woman crashed on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Leandra’s Law, passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Governor Paterson last year, mandates ignition interlocks for motorists convicted of DWI and makes it a felony to drive drunk with children as passengers. But since it was adopted, over two dozen counties have asked for a two-year moratorium on implementation of the law, set to begin in August.

The reason, according to language contained in legislation now pending in Albany, is that lawmakers have historically directed revenue from DWI fines to the state’s general fund, and localities say they don’t have the money to carry out restrictions placed on the thousands of drivers who will be sentenced under Leandra’s Law every year. The new law, sponsored in the Senate by Martin Malave Dilan, would redirect $6.8 million from the general fund to counties where fines for certain traffic violations are collected.

The bill also seeks to fold administration duties into existing STOP-DWI programs, rather than requiring counties to establish a new bureaucracy for carrying out sentences and managing probationers. Without dedicated funds to help with implementation of Leandra’s Law, the bill’s authors say, more offenders will end up pleading down to the lesser offense of Driving While Ability Impaired.

Said Assembly co-sponsor Aileen Gunther, Democrat from Sullivan County, "By using an existing funding stream, derived from convicted drunk drivers, and by utilizing the expertise and core competency of county STOP-DWI coordinators, we can implement the expanded ignition interlock program effectively and on time."

The bill has passed the full Senate, while its Assembly companion has yet to clear the transportation committee.