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Paterson pushes his own DWI-with-kids bill

This vehicle was crushed in an accident that

This vehicle was crushed in an accident that killed five from Long Island on the Taconic State Parkway. (July 26, 2009) Credit: 1010 WINS / Sonia Rincon

A day after a Long Island state senator introduced a bill that would increase penalties for driving drunk with a child in the car, Gov. David A. Paterson Thursday announced his own proposed legislation.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) announced he was introducing his bill, saying it was more relevant than ever in light of the recent crash on the Taconic Parkway, which killed eight people, including four children.

Paterson picked up on the same theme yesterday. The governor held a news conference at his Manhattan office, surrounded by the New York State troopers who responded to the wrong-way-driver crash on the Taconic, along with officials from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Paterson said the crash sparked his staff to research statistics about how many drivers drive drunk with children as passengers. In 2007, Paterson said, there were 9,480 accidents involving intoxicated drivers in New York, and 344 resulted in death.

"Nearly 200 of those killed or injured were under the age of 14," Paterson said.

The bill introduced by Fuschillo would make driving drunk with children under 16 a class E felony punishable with a maximum of up to 4 years in prison. The senate legislation is co-sponsored by Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach).

Paterson said his legislation would do the same, and both bills also make it a Class C violent felony, punishable by 31/2 to 15 years in prison, in drunken driving cases in which a passenger under 16 is seriously injured.

In addition, people convicted of driving drunk with a child under 16 in the car, within 10 years of a prior drunken driving conviction, would lose their license for 18 months, according to Paterson's proposals.

The legislation also identifies individuals caught on a first drunken driving offense with a child passenger as a "serious offender" and requires them to install ignition interlock devices, which can block intoxicated drivers from starting a car.

"These laws are pretty tough, but it's what we think we need," Paterson said.

Debbie Weir, national chief operating officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said changes in the law would mean drunken driving with children would be treated as "the serious crime that it should be."

In a telephone interview yesterday, Fuschillo said it appears the governor "copied" his legislation and "put it in a press release. . . . I'm pleased to have his support."

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