By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate has advanced 27-7 a bill that would do away with the Office of Administrative Hearings, transferring jurisdiction for DUI cases to the courts.
Senate Bill 212 is now pending before the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the Office of Administrative Hearings, which was created by the Legislature in 2010, is unnecessary and inefficient.
However, Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, said the bill could cause more DUI death possibilities.
Trump argued that the bill does not change the penalties for DUIs or reduce license revocations, but it does provide for additional license suspensions.
For example, he said for those convicted of DUI causing death, licenses would be revoked for 10 years with all penalties remaining the same. For DUI causing serious bodily injury, there would be a five-year revocation.
Trump called the bill a “smaller government law.”
“Basically, what it says is that we don’t need the duplication of two courts, two systems of people doing the exact same thing they’re doing now in magistrate and circuit courts in this state,” Trump said.
The bill transfers authority for hearings related to suspensions or revocations of drivers’ licenses for a DUI from the Office of Administrative Hearings to the courts and directs the commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke a license upon conviction of a DUI.
Trump said West Virginia is out of the norm compared its border states, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“The office has failed in its duty to carry out its responsibilities under the statute,” Trump said, later adding, “There have been cases where hearings have occurred but no orders have been entered for over a year.”
He also said these cases will move much more quickly through magistrate or circuit court. He said the bill also would give the magistrate authority at the time of arraignment or a person’s first appearance in magistrate court to suspend the license then.
Trump said the bill preserves the person’s right to contest the decision.
“If you’re charged with DUI causing death or causing serious injury, a serious DUI offense, then you don’t have a drivers’ license as of today. Not three years, not four years, not five years. Today.”
Miller said the amount of DUI deaths has decreased since the 1980s when DMV hearings were put in place.
“Something is working. I admit the Office of Administrative Hearings has not worked efficiently,” Miller said, noting there has been a change in leadership. “They are starting to finally resolve the cases that have been backlogged.”
Miller also said the evidence standards would be changed. He said the standard is different in court compared to what evidence the office would hear. He said there could be cases where there would not be enough evidence to convict someone of DUI, but the office would have enough evidence to revoke the license.
“I’m afraid we are going down a very slippery slope for our future,” he said. “Maybe, we are saving a couple million dollars and that’s good, but what will it cost us when we lose the best and brightest students who may be killed by a drunk driver while driving home from school one night?”
Trump said contrary to Miller’s point, he believes the bill would do the opposite and that there have been other contributing factors to reducing DUI deaths such as lowering blood alcohol from 0.1 to 0.08.
“If I thought it would cause one more fatality in this state, I wouldn’t be here on the floor supporting it,” he said. “I think it will do the opposite. There has been no action in the Office of Administrative Hearings now and some go on for years and years and years with people who have had DUIs still driving around with no action.”
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