Albany Fails to Pass Drunk-Driving Law

ALBANY—Can you think of anything more politically safe than supporting a law that cracks down on drunk drivers, especially in the wake of tragedy?

Probably not.

But somehow, the New York State government couldn’t get it together to do so during yesterday’s special session.

David Paterson included in his special session agenda a bill to strengthen penalties for those who drive drunk with children under 15 in their car, dubbed Leandra’s Law after a girl who died at the hands of a drunk driver. It did not pass.

“We saw an extremely disappointing day for Lenny Rosado and New York State,” said State Senator Charles Fuschillo, a Long Island Republican, referring to the girl’s father, who made a tearful plea for the bill yesterday at the Capitol.

Fuschillo and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are standing by a bill that would make it a felony to drive with a B.A.C. of over .08 with a child in the car. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said yesterday that chamber would consider (and most certainly pass) a bill where felony penalties kicked in at a BAC of .18, and kept a misdemeanor charge for anyone blowing .08 to .18.

“The Senate agreed to this. The governor agreed to this,” spokesman Dan Weiller said.

The Senate then walked away from the deal, and Dilan and Fuschillo promised to pass the governor’s original, tougher bill alone. They did not.

“The governor didn’t send the bill down. Because it’s a special session the governor would have to send down the bills,” Fuschillo told me today by phone, noting a parliamentary technicality. “You have to be drunker to have a felony? It was wrong, we stood our ground, and I’m hopeful.”

A Paterson aide said the governor remains committed to the bill, and negotiations continue.

“It’s extremely disappointing with this issue,” Fuschillo said. “We could have passed it yesterday, the governor could have signed it today, and it would be a law on the books.”