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Informed Opinions on Today’s Topics : Bill Targets Drivers With Invalid Licenses

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two strikes and your car is gone.

That’s exactly what will happen if the proposed Safe Streets Act of 1994 (AB 3148), introduced by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), becomes law and you’re caught driving a second time with a suspended or revoked driver’s license.

Considered one of the toughest unlicensed drivers’ bills in the country, the amended legislation will subject your car to immediate seizure and forfeiture unless the vehicle is owned by another person or company, or claimed by a spouse as community property. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, between 1.7 million and 2 million drivers have lost their licenses.

The bill’s supporters claim an estimated 75% of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive without a license and be involved in the majority of fatal hit and runs. AB 3148 cleared one of its final major hurdles Monday, when it was voted out of the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee by a 7-4 vote. Now it’s headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it’s expected to be shepherded through by the committee chairman, state Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), an ardent supporter.

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* Is AB 3148 a punishment that fits the crime or just another “Big Brother” power grab by the state?

Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar)

“The genesis of this bill came from me being sick and tired of seeing stories about another innocent victim killed by a convicted drunk driver who turns out to be driving with a suspended or revoked license. I felt incredibly frustrated that higher fines, revoking licenses and jail time had absolutely no effect.

“The capper for me was watching a television news crew follow a convicted drunk driver from court, after he just had his license revoked and film him driving off in his car. That’s when I decided we needed something much more severe and simple to enforce. You get caught driving without a license and you lose your car. You can’t drive what you don’t have. Statistics from law enforcement and howdeep the DMV show that convicted drunk drivers are four times as likely to become involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident. So this bill will save lives by getting these people off our roads.”

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State Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), a Judiciary Committee member who was undecided, but finally voted yes on AB 3148 after it was amended

“I can understand Richard’s wanting to get convicted drunk drivers and other people who violate our laws off the streets and I support him on that. But I feel this bill, as it’s currently written, paints too broad a stroke. It should be more focused on the drunk driver. I also believe that . . . driving is not a privilege, it’s a right. That’s especially true in poor areas, where public transportation is bad and you have to drive to work and to shop.

“I’m especially concerned about community property and the uncontrollable drinker, who takes the car despite his family’s efforts to stop him. Do we penalize the whole family by taking their car? I can’t support that.”

(A community property exemption regarding immediate forfeiture was included in this latest version of the bill.)

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Francisco Lobaco, legislative director, ACLU California Legislative Office in San Francisco

“If you liked the state’s drug asset forfeiture law that just expired, a law which Richard (Katz) wrote, then you’ll love this Safe Streets Act. Talk about Big Brother in action. I can appreciate his attempt to keep convicted drunk drivers off the road. I can support that. But focus in on them. This bill is a violation of due process, and will impact most heavily on poor people.

“What happens to people who lose their license after an accident, because they can’t afford insurance and still pay rent or buy food? Do we let them die or put them on welfare, if they lose their car?”


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