Rep. Darlene Curley, R-Scarborough, does not want to see a bill she has sponsored to curb drivers under suspension from becoming watered down during the legislative process.

“I’m a little disappointed that some of my colleagues want to make it weaker,” Curley said. “When you and your family get in the car in the morning to go to work, school or the grocery store you should not be looking left or right out of the car windows wondering if the person next to you is licensed to drive.”

Curley and Senator Bill Diamond, D-Windham, have proposed “Tina’s Law” which they hope will avert accidents such as the one that killed Scarborough resident Tina Turcotte last July on Interstate 95 in Hallowell.

Caribou trucker Scott Hewitt is believed to have caused the accident. Hewitt’s license was suspended at the time of the accident and it was later learned that he had more than 60 vehicle related convictions, including more than 20 license suspensions. Hewitt is currently in jail.

Last Friday, Hewitt appeared in a Kennebec County courtroom and pleaded not guilty to 11 counts relating to the accident, including manslaughter, operating under the influence while causing serious injury, operating under the influence in a commercial vehicle, and operating after suspension.

During a hearing in front of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee last week, Tina’s Law faced some criticism by those who felt that its provisions were too strict.

The bill would stiffen the penalties for operation after suspension to include jail time and fines. It also will allow the state to impound offender’s vehicles and require a suspended license be immediately confiscated. Currently suspended drivers are supposed to surrender their license to police, but that does not always happen.

Curley said she is determined that Tina’s Law will pass in some form. While she would like to see all of the bill’s measures pass, there will be some negotiation during the legislative process, as there is with every piece of legislation.

Several amendments have already been submitted to change the law, Curley said, adding that most of the residents she speaks with feel that the bill does not go far enough.

“From my point of view this is a get tough on crime bill, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “It’s time for people who drive with out a license to be held responsible and make our highways safer.”

Some of the questions raised thus far include law enforcement’s ability to impound a vehicle and what it means for that person’s family. Also there is concerned about the bill’s effect on the already overflowing county jail population, Curley said. However, there some ideas of combining jail time with community-based sentences with the use of an ankle monitor.

According to the Cumberland County Sheriffs Department, one in 25 drivers on Maine’s highways are driving with a suspended license or are habitual offenders, a figure that Curley said is staggering.

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