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Bill would offer repeat DUI offenders limited license
Attending rehabilitation programs would cut need for imprisonment
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State lawmakers are pushing for a bill they say will benefit repeat DUI offenders on their roads to recovery and in turn help halt the state's growing prison population.

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County, as well as parts of Clarke and Walton counties, is sponsoring a bill that would allow persons convicted of a second DUI to obtain a limited driver's permit to attend mandatory rehabilitation programs.

"Many candidates for those programs, who would benefit greatly from it, are unable to participate because they're not able to get there," Cowsert said. "It requires intensive counseling, intensive court supervision where they literally are going to court every week to be held accountable."

Persons convicted of a second DUI within a span of 10 years could be eligible to obtain the limited permit after their license has been suspended for 120 days and after completion of a DUI school course. The sentencing judge would then have to approve the offender to be granted the permit.

An ignition interlock device would be installed on the offender's vehicle that would require a breath sample to ensure the driver is not intoxicated.

If passed, lawmakers expect the legislation to reduce the state's recidivism rate.

"If you don't do anything to address it, they just keep getting more DUIs," Cowsert said. "But if you address the problem and give them the rehabilitation and treatment that they need, then they stop drinking and driving."

Hall and Dawson counties run mandatory DUI treatment courts for people convicted twice in five years or convicted of a third DUI offense.

Rob McNeill, senior assistant public defender for Dawson County, said between 15 and 20 percent of offenders don't attend the mandatory treatment because they have no transportation. Those offenders who don't abide by their probation terms can then be sentenced to serve jail time.

"Putting people in jail will keep them off the roads that long but it does nothing to address the underlying problem. The only thing that does ... is the DUI courts," said McNeill, who is also an adviser to the Dawson County DUI court.

It is especially difficult for offenders who live in rural areas where public transportation does not exist, he said.

"Without a limited permit, it's almost prohibitive," McNeill said.

The bill is also supported by many local attorneys.

"I would support a bill that would give some limited license to a second DUI because I've seen too many occasions where I had a client ... sentenced to do all this treatment, but ... they have no practical way to get there," said Lee Parks, a
Gainesville attorney.

Parks said he has represented clients who skip the mandatory programs because they have no transportation.
Gainesville attorney Julius Hulsey said repeat DUI offenders should not be granted any leniency during sentencing, but he would support legislation to provide them the opportunity to attend treatment.

"Obviously these people are on hard times," Hulsey said. "I think (granting a limited license) is a practical solution, otherwise they have to find somebody to drive them or we're going to create a situation where they're going to be tempted to violate the law by driving when they don't have a license."

The main concern would be offenders abusing the limited permit. However, Cowsert and many attorneys say the benefits would outweigh that concern.

"Anything we do, there's always the potential of people abusing it, in which case there could be harm" Parks said. "But for the vast majority ... being able to get to a program that's going to help them deal with the alcohol or substance abuse ... is a good thing."