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State Senate votes to close Melanie’s Law loophole

The state Senate has voted unanimously to close a loophole in Melanie’s Law, the measure intended to crack down on repeat drunk drivers.

A recent Supreme Judicial Court decision said the Registry of Motor Vehicles could not count cases that are “continued without a finding” as convictions in determining what sanctions to bring against repeat drunk drivers.

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Drivers who acknowledge that they were driving drunk can sometimes have their cases continued without a finding, which means that a judge will suspend their case for a period of time and, if they don’t get into further trouble, the charges will be dropped.

The amendment by Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, passed, 37-0, on Wednesday night, the Senate president’s office said in a statement.

Tarr said in a statement that the Senate “took an important step toward restoring one of the most important elements of Melanie’s Law. Treating incidents of drunk driving appropriately will insure that recidivists receive the appropriate sanctions, such as license suspensions, to protect the safety of those traveling on the roadways of the Commonwealth.”

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case of a man who was given a three-year license suspension by the Registry because of a “second conviction” of drunken driving. He challenged the suspension, pointing out that his first case was continued without a finding.

The court agreed with the defendant, saying it had to stick with the actual language in the law, rather than interpret it in the way its framers had intended it.

Senator Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat, called the amendment “straightforward and critical” to keeping Melanie’s Law “robust.” “We are not going to tolerate repeat drunk driving offenses in Massachusetts any longer,” she said, State House News Service reported.

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