Police urge Maryland lawmakers to pass ignition interlock bill

Emotions ran high in Annapolis on Wednesday after law enforcement in Maryland packed a legislative hearing on drunk driving.

Police are demanding the passage of "Noah's Law," which is named after Noah Leotta, a Montgomery County police officer who was killed in December by a suspected drunk driver.

The bill would require breathalyzer ignition locks for all convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.

But the state law currently only requires an ignition interlock device on your car for those who had a .15 blood alcohol content - nearly twice the legal limit.

Rich Leotta is unhappy with the current law and if Noah's Law was in effect, he believes his son's may not have lost his life.

"My son is in the grave because we haven't done enough," he testified. "I have to go and talk to my son at the grave. How would you feel if that was you?"

Police officers who have been hit by drunk drivers and lived packed the hearing room on Wednesday.

"This is about dozens, hundreds, thousands of people that have been killed on Maryland highways over the years because of our weak drunk driving laws and weak drunk driving penalties," said Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger.

Noah's law would force first-time DUI offenders to use the ignition interlock device before driving. Supporters have been trying since 2009 - long before Officer Leotta was killed - to get such a bill through the Maryland House Judicary Committee and its chairman Joseph Vallerio (D-Prince George's).

But time and time, they have been stalled. Vallerio downplayed the need for Noah's Law by waving studies in the air that he claims show that Maryland has one of the best interlock laws in the country.

"We're all concerned," said Vallario. "I have six children, 21 grandchildren. I'm concerned, you're concerned, we're all concerned."

The bill's sponsor, Maryland State Del. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery), layed into the judiciary committee urging them to pass the bill in rough language touching off another argument with the vice chairwoman.

"Let's tell our residents we looked the liquor lobby in the eye and we said to them kiss my ass," said Kramer.

"I support Noah's Law," said Maryland State Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery). "We will work on it, we will get it out, but at the same time, don't come and lecture us."

Officer Leotta was working on a drunk driving task force the night he was struck by suspected drunk driver who had been drinking at a Rockville restaurant.

This assembly session ends on April 11, which means lawmakers have 46 days to get Noah's Law passed. If not, it will have to wait again until next year.