State needs game changer on DWI

Lisa said no before she said yes. Jim and Sharon said yes before they said no. New Mexico politics are so confusing! Let’s sort it out.

Sen. Lisa Torraco, a Bernalillo Republican, last year voted no on a bill to outlaw the practice of texting while driving. This column repeated her statement at a hearing: “I have a problem as a Republican giving police another reason to stop us.”

Ned Cantwell

Ned Cantwell

After the column was published, Sen. Torraco emailed, “I am just wondering if you are aware that I voted in FAVOR of this legislation?”

Well, no, I wasn’t aware of that. In subsequent conversations, the senator, who is a good sport about it all her, explained her no vote was on a bill that allowed a citation even if you were parked in your driveway while texting. When the legislation was fine tuned, she voted for it.

This year, the texting bill has sailed through the state Senate with only five votes against. Sen. Torraco voted in favor. As this is written it faces a House hearing. Maybe by the time you read this it will have been passed.

Gov. Susanna Martinez has indicated she will sign the bill should it get to her desk.

Now, about Jim and Sharon. That would be Rep. James White, Republican of Albuquerque, and Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Republican of Shiprock. Both withheld support this year on a bill that would have increased jail time for repeat felony DWI offenders.

Interestingly, this year’s no reversed last year’s yes. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the legislators “didn’t recall why they voted last year to support the same legislation” they are opposing this year.

As to this year’s reticence, Rep. White said the fiscal analysis, that important document that informs legislators how new laws will impact financially, is not definite about cost. Actually, the fiscal analysis says this about the bill:

“Enactment of HB10 may lead to a significant fiscal impact for multiple agencies, though a total cost is difficult to quantify.”

In language you and I understand, that means the law would cost a bunch and that is just an estimate. Cost is one concern. Sen. Clahchischilliage has another. She is not sure jailing offenders gets to the root of the problem. She says the state should be putting more emphasis on rehab than jail time.

“I don’t feel a whole lot is accomplished when a person is incarcerated for repeated offenses,” she says. That is a legitimate concern, as is cost of enforcement.

This might be an appropriate time to discuss cultural contagion, if for no other reason I have always wanted an excuse to type “cultural contagion.” That means drunken driving is the result of factors not necessarily solved by building more cells.

Substance abuse spreads like a disease, infecting our highways, our families, our educational process. Ask any first-grade teacher.

Sen. Clahchischilliage will argue just putting someone in jail longer isn’t going to change any of that. The basic problem will remain. And Rep. White might argue prison time costs society a whole lot of bucks that could be used for other purposes.

What New Mexico needs, what the nation needs, is a game changer. Until something gets at the roots of the problem, extreme poverty and the ignorance, drug abuse, and family deterioration that follows will continue.

Those arguments are so heavy they make my head hurt. Heavy, and irrelevant to many. Ask the mom who lost her teen daughter to a drunken driver. She won’t have any trouble at all voting for extended jail time for the convicted.


Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist who welcomes comment at:

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