TRENTON – Senator Barbara Buono, a long-time advocate for reforming New Jersey’s drunk driving laws, said today that Attorney General Stuart Rabner has thrown his support behind two of her reform measures and that a Senate committee will consider the bills next week.
“The Attorney General’s support is invaluable in building momentum to ensure these reforms pass,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Together we need to crack down on drunk driving and make the consequences of such a reckless decision reflect the severity of the crime.”
Senator Buono received a letter earlier this week from Mr. Rabner stating that his office had reviewed her two bills, S-531 and S-532, and supported them as efforts to enhance public safety.
“This Office strongly supports efforts to enhance public safety by doing all we can to prevent people from driving while intoxicated,” said Attorney General Rabner in his letter. “We all hope to spare families from the tragic consequences of this irresponsible, potentially deadly conduct.”
Senator Buono said that her drafting of these bills was inspired by the tragic death of 17-year-old Michael Partipilo in 2004, at the hands of a serial drunk driver. The drunk driver, Philip Gonzalez, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 years in jail. It was revealed prior to his conviction that he had already received numerous other moving violations, including leaving the scene of an accident and 12 license suspensions since he first received his license.
Michael’s father, Michael Partipilo, Sr., who has worked with Senator Buono to get this legislation passed said, “This won’t help our son but for the sake of the community we need to address this kind of behavior. This is what our son would want.”
S-531 would increase the minimum jail period from 10 days to 30 days for those individuals caught driving while their license is revoked for a previous DWI conviction. S-532 would eliminate the “step down” provision in state law which downgrades subsequent DWI offenses that occur more than 10 years after a previous conviction, allowing judges the discretion of sentencing individuals with 10 or more years between DWI convictions as either first-time or repeat offenders.
Senator Buono explained, “For most people, the thought of putting themselves and others in mortal danger is enough to prevent them from getting behind the wheel when intoxicated. For those who think they can beat the odds, we need to increase the threat of significant jail time and long license suspensions if they get caught by the police.”
Senator Buono noted that both of these measures were passed by the full Senate in 2004, but were not considered by the Assembly before the end of the 2004-2005 legislative session. She expects the Senate to quickly approve the bills again.
“These reforms honor Michael and every individual lost at the hands of a drunk driver by making sure fewer such tragedies happen. We won’t stop until these bills become law,” added Senator Buono.
The two bills will be considered by the Senate Law & Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday at 1:00 p.m. in Committee Room 4 of the State House Annex.