A Kinder, Gentler DWI

State lawmakers consider making it easier for convicted drunk drivers to get back behind the wheel

But what will likely be the most controversial DWI-related proposal comes from state Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen). While not aimed specifically at drunk drivers, Ortman's plan, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, would broadly expand the rights of people to have their criminal records sealed.

The bill is aimed at minimizing the barriers to employment and housing that come with the stigma of a criminal conviction, but critics like Simon worry that it will allow drunk drivers to expunge their records. If that happens, he speculates, "the insurance companies will raise every driver's rates in Minnesota" to compensate.

Whatever the plan's merits, ex-offenders like Steve think it's long overdue. After the last time he lost his license, Steve despaired. "I was thinking I was screwed. I thought my wife was going to leave me," he says. He struggled to hitch rides with co-workers, relatives, and friends, but was on the verge of breaking the law once again.

"I was about to start driving illegally, against the wishes of everyone in my family," he says. "For me, ignition interlock was a godsend. Now, the stress in my marriage is gone. I'm able to drive to work and I'm able to drive to my AA meeting. It's kind of like a 24-hour probation officer."

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