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A Patriot Ledger series: Summary | PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | UPDATES

Melanie's Story

A first-hand story from the grandfather of 13-year-old victim Melanie Powell
Memories of Melanie: A photo slideshow


State ranked among the worst in nation
Quincy judge was among first to take a hard line


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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MADD sees good and bad in legislative session

~ The Patriot Ledger

BOSTON – With two of its four legislative priorities apparently dead for the year, the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is giving state lawmakers mixed reviews for the 2003-2004 legislative session.

In 2002, the anti-drunken driving group gave Bay State lawmakers an “F” for drunken driving legislation – a grade MADD’s state chapter hopes will improve when the group releases new evaluations in 2006.

Barbara Harrington, executive director of Massachusetts’ MADD, said the grading of the current legislative session is incomplete.

In July 2003, Gov. Mitt Romney gave the group its only victory so far in this legislative session when he signed a law setting a blood alcohol content level of .08 as the legal minimum at which a motorist can be considered to be driving under the influence.

Before that measure was enacted, a .08 blood alcohol content was considered evidence, not proof, of drunken driving.

The same week Romney signed the lower blood alcohol level measure – making Massachusetts the last state in the nation to have such a law – another bill that would have allowed police to stop cars with people not wearing seat belts died on a tie vote in the House.

Currently, police can only ticket people for not buckling up when the vehicles they are in are stopped for other reasons, such as speeding or driving with a broken taillight.

“It’s a huge disappointment that it failed, but we’ve managed to do a lot of education,” Harrington said. “It indicates to the public some kind of a conflict whether or not seat belts save lives. And of course, there’s no doubt they save lives.”

The seat belt setback was followed by another, when a measure that would have outlawed underage alcohol consumption never emerged from the Legislature’s Government Regulations Committee. Instead, the committee recommended the bill for further study – what is known on Beacon Hill as going to “study order.”

“That’s the bill graveyard,” Harrington said.

Harrington said she plans to push for the seat belt and consumption bills next session.

Presently, Harrington is “cautiously optimistic” state lawmakers will pass a law that stiffens penalties against repeat drunken drivers.

The repeat offenders bill – which is supported by the Romney administration – needs final legislative approval before it can be sent to Romney’s desk.

But because legislators have ended formal sessions for the year, bills can only advance on a unanimous vote – making it far from certain that MADD will be able to salvage its two remaining priorities.


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