A proposed law to toughen penalties for people who drive with suspended licenses contains no provision that would allow the state to permanently revoke a person’s license, though lawmakers may add it during their deliberations.

Two Maine legislators unveiled the proposed law Monday, with the support of the family of Tina Turcotte, a 40-year-old Scarborough woman killed on Interstate 95 in Hallowell July 29.

Caribou trucker Scott Hewitt was ruled at fault in the accident. Hewitt’s license was suspended at the time of the accident and it was later learned that he has more than 60 vehicle-related convictions, and more than 20 license suspensions. Hewitt is currently in jail, facing 11 misdemeanor charges, none of which holds him responsible for Turcotte’s death.

Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, unveiled “Tina’s Law,” which would impose stricter penalties for drivers who “flagrantly and repeatedly flaunt the law,” Diamond said. He believes the law will change the culture in the state much as the revamped drunk driving laws did several years ago.

“Had this law been in effect on July 29 Mr. Hewitt would not have been on the road,” Diamond said.

Diamond said the current laws regarding operating after suspension are “random” in their approach and are not taken as seriously as they should be.

“Our justice system is very weak, our laws are very weak,” said Pat LaNigra, Turcotte’s mother, Monday.

Tina’s Law would stiffen the penalties for operation after suspension to include jail time and fines. It also would allow the state to impound offenders’ vehicles and require suspended licenses be immediately confiscated.

“In my mind if we don’t take the vehicle they could just jump back in,” Curley said.

LaNigra said the number of people caught driving after their licenses have been suspended is evidence that new laws are needed to ensure tragedies like the one affecting her family do not occur again.

“To lose a daughter, you can’t imagine what it is like,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned these laws can’t be strict enough to get these murderers off the road.”

According to information from the Maine Secretary of State, there are nearly 45,000 drivers who have had their license suspended between five and nine times, 15,000 who have had their licenses suspended 10 to 14 times, and 8,000 who have had their license suspended 15 or more times.

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion has been very active in trying to catch suspended drivers. He has set up license checkpoints and conducted surveillance on the residences and places of employment for some the county’s worst drivers.

“The message from the sheriff’s office has been clear and simple: If your license has been suspended it’s not a suggestion, it’s an order,” he said.

During the license checkpoints Dion stopped some 1,400 drivers and made 41 arrests for operating after suspension and habitual offenders.

Curley, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said it is unclear how much it will cost to implement the new law, but finding money and getting the law passed will be one of her top priorities this session.

“The goal is to get these drivers off the road,” she said.

One concern the LaNigras have is that the law will be watered down during the legislative process because of money and compromise until it will be ineffectual in deterring suspended drivers from operating a vehicle.

The proposal does not include a provision to permanently revoke a driver’s license.

Curley said there would be a lot of discussion regarding the bill once the Legislature begins its review. She has heard from some who think the law is not strict enough.

“There will be some provisions, some changes (in committee),” she said. “I’m assuming the bill will look differently.”

Pat LaNigra said she would like to see the law even stricter, but will support the current proposal in hopes that something will be done to deter people like Hewitt from driving again.

“This Scott Hewitt should be jailed for life,” she said. “He’s a menace to society.”

Tina’s Law provides for increased penalties for those who are driving with a suspended license and cause an accident. If the accident only causes personal injury then the suspended driver can be charged with a Class C felony. If an accident causes a death, then the driver can be charged with a Class B felony.

The new law also increases the penalties for multiple license suspensions. If a person’s license is suspended three times due to traffic violations in three years, the license will be revoked for one year. If the driver is then caught driving, he will face six months in jail.

If a person’s license is suspended four to six times in three years, the person’s license would be revoked for six years and if the individual is caught driving they will face two years jail time.

If a person’s license is suspended more than six times in three years, it will be revoked for 10 years and if the driver is caught driving he will face five years in jail.

In addition, fines also will be incorporated into the suspensions. Those with three suspensions will pay $1,000; those with four to six suspensions will face a fine of $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000. Those with more than six suspensions will face a fine of $5,000.

Pat LaNigra and her husband Bob discussing Tina’s Law on Monday at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.


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