June 05, 2020

House votes down raise in minors’ drinking fine

AUGUSTA — The Maine House killed off a bill Tuesday that would have increased fines and imposed optional driver’s license suspensions for minors convicted of consuming alcoholic beverages.

Under LD 1259, fines would have jumped by $100 in each offense category. The increase would have resulted in a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $400 for a first offense, $300 to $600 for a second offense, $500 to $600 for third and subsequent offenses. In addition to the fines, the bill also permitted the courts to suspend a convicted minor’s driver’s license for 30 days for a first offense, 90 days for a second offense, one year for a third or subsequent offense.

The bill received a majority ought-not-to-pass recommendation when it came out of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee. Rep. Arthur F. Mayo, R-Bath, a member of the committee, objected to the legislation because offenders could lose their licenses for up to 90 days for a nonmotor-vehicle violation.

“If the court so desired, there is a provision for that,” he said. “This would be the first time that we have linked a person’s driver’s license to such behavior. I would caution you to think about the slippery slope that this leads us on with the passage of this particular piece of legislation.”

Rep. Richard H. Thompson, D-Naples, told lawmakers that current Maine law offers suspension options in situations where liquor is actually being transported in a motor vehicle.

“There is a direct relationship between the penalty being imposed and suspension of the license and the wrongful act of a minor transporting that alcohol,” he said.

Thompson pointed out that under the law, a 20-year-old who had consumed alcoholic beverages could conclude he was too drunk to drive and ask another minor to drive him home. Should the vehicle be stopped for an inspection violation and an officer deem the minor to have consumed alcohol, the ensuing civil citation could cost him his license.

“The more important message that I would like to get across is that it’s bad to drink and drive, that’s where the lives are lost,” he said. “I think this is a step too far.”

Minors who assist their families by holding part-time jobs and running errands with the family car would be too harshly penalized under the bill according to Rep. Kathleen Stevens, D-Orono.

“We all know, to our chagrin, minors who have run into problems with the law through the possession of alcohol,” she said. “Those are mistakes that minors come to learn about through sanctions imposed on them by the courts and from the communities in which they live. This step would be too great because it would also impose on a family the sanction of one less driver to drive to work, to drive to day care or after-school sporting events. Many families depend on minors to shuttle other members of the family around.”

Rep. Robert A. Daigle, R-Arundel, argued for the bill on the basis that the license to operate a motor vehicle is a privilege granted by society. Without strong public statements addressing the consumption of alcohol by minors, he said, the Legislature risked trivializing the offense.

“What we’re doing here is giving a judge the discretion to take away the privilege that we together grant any young man or woman to drive a vehicle on the same road that you and your families do,” Daigle said. Will it be an inconvenience to the driver or their families? I hope so. I hope it’s an extreme inconvenience to them. I hope it’s what it’s supposed to be: punishment.”

The House voted 128-19 to postpone indefinitely action on the bill, effectively killing the measure which will face additional votes in the Senate.

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