AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 8,000 Mainers were arrested for drunken driving in 2009, the most recent statistics available, and Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, says Mainers should know who those drivers are.
“I want a website at [the Maine Department of] Public Safety that will have their names and addresses and their picture,” he said. “People need to know about drunk drivers that might be living next door and taking their kids to soccer practice.”
Cebra said his measure would establish the website so that Mainers could search their community to see if any neighbors are convicted drunken drivers, and whether they are multiple offenders. He said it would be similar to the state sex offender website but would not be a registry.
“This would depend on the conviction information that is already being collected,” he said, “and I am proposing a $25 surcharge on every OUI conviction to pay for the website construction and operation.”
The measure has been referred to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee and will have its hearing later this month.
Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, the co-chairman of the panel, said he has a problem with any proposed websites to publicize a person’s conviction of any offense except the sex offender registry.
“We have looked at several other requests, whether it is animal abusers or arsonists,” he said. “Every site that we create like that is very expensive. We don’t have the money.”
Plummer also doubted whether such a website would have a deterrent effect. He said those that drink and drive really don’t think about what will happen to them when they get caught even though fines and long license suspensions have been added to the penalties for drunken driving over the years.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said that while the concern about drunken drivers on the roads is a real one that she shares, she opposes the website as a solution to the problem of protecting family members from drunken drivers.
“The best way for parents to keep their children safe is to know their neighbors and know the adults that they let their children get rides with,” she said. “A website like this does not improve public safety.”
Bellows said the MCLU has consistently opposed websites like the one Cebra has proposed because they do not advance public safety and do thwart efforts of individuals to get past their offense and become integrated back into society.
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who served as secretary of state for a decade, said that while he supports the sex offender registry because of the nature of the crimes involved, he does not think a publicly available website listing those convicted of OUI would help with the problem of drunken driving.
“If we do this, where will we stop?” he said. “There are several issues that go with putting somebody’s picture up on a website — serious issues, many, many issues that the Legislature needs to explore before passing something like this.”
Diamond said the issues of developing a website are not “black and white” and include many unintended consequences that could cause lawmakers problems in future sessions. He urged the rejection of the proposal.
But Cebra is not deterred by the opposition to his proposal. He said most Mainers are very upset at the number of drunken drivers who are back on the roads just weeks or months after being convicted of OUI.
“What really gets me is the person who is that fourth-time offender that is only losing their license for 90 days,” he said. “This may not be the perfect answer, but we have to start looking at this; we are not being serious about this.”
Cebra said there have been decades of discussions about drunken drivers, and he said it is time to try to do something to reduce the numbers. He said too many families have had to experience a tragedy from a drunken driver killing or injuring a loved one to simply do nothing.