The South Carolina House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed "Emma's Law" Tuesday afternoon, including a provision that critics say weakens the bill.
The bill is named after 6-year-old Emma Longstreet, who was killed by a repeat offender drunken driver in 2012.
The bill would require anyone convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher to install an ignition interlock on his car. A driver has to blow into the interlock before starting the car. If it detects alcohol, the car won't start.
But the original bill passed by the Senate would have required interlocks for drivers with blood alcohol levels of .12 or higher. A House subcommittee changed it to .15, which critics say weakens the bill.
Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victims' Council, says, "We see that, of the 315 deaths we had, for instance, in 2011, 30 percent of those deaths were caused by drivers under the .15. So are we going to say to 30 percent of the public that we don't care about that?"
She would prefer that ignition interlocks be required for first offenses starting at .08 blood alcohol levels.
Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, proposed the amendment that raised it to .15. He says, "There are certain triggers that are already in our DUI law: .08, .15. I didn't want to add another trigger. It's confusing to law enforcement officers. It's confusing to citizens."
Emma's parents, David and Karen Longstreet, have been working hard to pass the bill. After the committee meeting, David Longstreet said he hopes the bill will be changed back to its original form once it's on the House floor, possibly as early as next week.
"The people need to speak now, so the House has a chance to stand for the .12 still. It's not a guarantee it's at .15, so we still have a shot," he says.The committee narrowly rejected another amendment that would have made the bill stricter. Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, proposed expanding it so anyone convicted of DUI, at any alcohol level, could plead guilty and go into an ignition interlock program.
If their BAC was below .15, they would have to use an ignition interlock for 6 months and then stay out of trouble for three years. Someone with a BAC above .15, or who refused to take a breath test, would have to use an interlock for a year and then have three years of good behavior. If they comply and don't have any more DUIs, the first DUI would be expunged from their records. But if they did get another DUI later, the first would still count to make the second one a repeat offense and trigger stiffer penalties.
The committee rejected the amendment over concerns that changing the bill so much so late in the legislative session would lessen the chances of it passing this year.