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State

Illinois lawmakers advance plan to ease DUI penalties

SPRINGFIELD – Drunken driving offenders stripped of their driver's licenses could hit the road again if a proposal – supported by a prominent anti-drunken driving organization – keeps making its way through the Illinois Legislature.

A House committee voted 15-0 Wednesday to approve legislation that would allow four-time DUI offenders to obtain a restricted driver's permit, which limits the time and place a person can drive.

Rita Kreslin, the director of the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, said the measure improves road safety because many offenders drive illegally without insurance. Kreslin – whose 19-year-old son died in a crash involving a drunken driver – said rehabilitated offenders should get another chance.

"I understand the frustration that some people might think that 'Wow, you're giving somebody a privilege when they haven't earned it.' In some cases that's true, and those individuals will not be given a permit," she said.

That's because the application process would be rigorous, state Rep. Elaine Nekritz said.

Under the Northbrook Democrat's proposal, four-time DUI offenders could only obtain a restricted driver's permit five years after losing their license or their release from prison. They would need to prove three years of sobriety, go through treatment programs, and install an in-car Breathalyzer for life.

"A lot of these people are driving anyway, so we might as well legalize them if we can," Nekritz said. "How else do you support your family unless you have transportation? It gives these people one more bite at the apple."

According to Secretary of State records, 380 Illinois residents lost driver's licenses in 2013. A vast majority of these revocations resulted from a fourth DUI conviction. Others involved fleeing the scene of a crash involving serious injuries or reckless driving that resulted in a death.

Secretary of State Jesse White's office and several statewide law enforcement groups are remaining neutral on the measure.

"Everybody deserves a second chance, but at the same time, we don't want them to go out and kill someone either," said Laimutis Nargelenas, a lobbyist for the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

The measure moves to the full House for consideration.

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