Alcohol sales ban proposed for DWI offenders

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

New Mexicans convicted of drunken driving could not buy beer, wine, whiskey or other liquor for five years under a proposal by a Republican lawmaker.

The measure would require bars, restaurants and other retailers to ask for identification from anyone buying alcohol — regardless of the person’s age.

New Mexicans convicted of drunken driving would be issued a driver’s license or identification card with a distinctive marking or magnetic strip allowing retailers to determine whether the individual was prohibited from buying alcohol.

“I think this is something that will have a real effect on DWI in New Mexico,” Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, said Tuesday at a news conference.

One Clovis bar owner said the proposal unfairly targets the legal sale of alcohol and doesn’t really address the problem of drinking and driving.

“I don’t see where it’s going to make a difference. It’s legal (to drink),” said Craig Pettigrew, co-owner of Prince Lounge & Package Goods. “As far as what’s illegal, (that) is drinking and driving. I don’t see what gives them the right to keep them from buying it. Just take away their right to drive.”

A liquor industry representative described the proposal as severe and said it treated DWI offenders as second-class citizens.

“How would we regulate that? It would be impossible,” said William Baldwin, president of the New Mexico Hospitality Retailers Association, which represents alcohol sellers.

Some, including Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry, think a five-year ban may be excessive.

“We realize that DWI is a pretty significant crime and most of the severe accidents we’ve had over the past few years have been alcohol-related,” Berry said. “I think five years might be a little bit too heavy.”

Enforcement was also a concern to Berry, as far as whether there would be serious consequences.

“Are there going to be punishments for the people who sell it and the people who buy it?” Berry said. “If you’re going to have restrictions on both sides, you need to have sanctions.”

Sharer said the bill only targeted New Mexicans who have proven they cannot handle their driving privileges and drink responsibly.

The measure is among many in the Legislature aimed at reducing drunken driving in the state.

Gov. Bill Richardson has historically been a supporter of legislation intend to curb DWI, and that is the case at this point.

“Gov. Richardson welcomes any discussion of measures that crack down on DWI, and he is intrigued with this particular bill,” said Gilbert Gallegos, the deputy director of communications for Richardson. “Obviously, the governor will have to study the bill as it moves through the legislative process.”

Other measures suggested by Richardson in his Jan. 18 state of the state address to the Legislature included ignition locks, lowering the breath alcohol count from .08 to .06 and a toll-free hotline to report a DWI.

In 2003, New Mexico had the sixth-highest rate in the nation for alcohol-related highway deaths. That was down from the fifth worst rate in the previous year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.