"Emma's Law" Passes Key Legislative Hurdle

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- "Emma's Law," which aims to curb drunk driving, moved past a key hurdle Thursday, but not without a few changes being made.

The law was introduced last year as S.137 in the State Senate, but it has made headlines again after the the death of 3-year-old Josiah Jenkins, who is the grand nephew of Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins.

The driver who hit him is accused of being drunk, and has four previous DUI convictions.

The bill has sat in a House Judiciary subcommittee since last Feb. when it passed the Senate.

Thursday, it passed the Special Laws Subcommittee, and will now advance to the full Judiciary Committee, but despite gains made today, advocates say the fight to see the bill become law may just be getting started.

"If Emma's Law was in place on that day in 2012," said David Longstreet, Emma's father, during his testimony in front of the subcommittee, "and had interlocks been apart of the state system on a first time offense, it's a fact Emma would be alive today."

The battle to see the bill become law has been years in the making for David and Karen Longstreet after theyr 6-year-old daughter Emma was killed when a drunk driver struck the vehicle she was riding in with her family Jan. 1, 2012.

Supporters of the bill showed up in large numbers asking law makers to approve the bill, which would mandate an ignition interlock device be placed on the cars of those convicted of drunk driving.

An ignition interlocking device requires a person's blood alcohol level to be under the .08 legal limit before they can drive. Current state law only requires the device after a second DUI conviction. Emma's Law would impose it on those charged the very first time with driving while intoxicated with an alcohol content level of .12 or higher.

However, amendments were added to the bill Thursday. One raised the minimum blood alcohol level from .12 to .15. Only those convicted of driving drunk, and not charged, as was stated in the original bill sponsored by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, would be required to install the devices in cars.

"I am so sick and tired of responding to calls where foolishness has taken place," said Chief Jenkins during his testimony as he was flanked on either side by Latonya Jenkins and Devon Risi, Josiah's parents.

Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who is part of the subcommittee, said he was being criticized by some of the bill's supporters because he is a criminal defense lawyer.

Some of those critics have said defense attorney's that are members of the legislature have held up the bill.

"The continued suggestion that criminal defense lawyers profit by loose DUI laws is not only silly, it's stupid," Rutherford said.

The amendments added to the bill will be addressed when the full committee debates next week.

"I will not get to walk my daughter down the aisle one day, and that hurts," Longstreet said.

If lawmakers do not pass the bill before June, the process will have to start from the beginning next session.


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