Gov. Harry Hughes says he will back a plan to fund the purchase of 11 new Med-Evac helicopters by increasing license plate fees by $3 to $5 a year.
The helicopters will cost $1.75 million each and will be capable of carrying two patients, a pilot and a two-member crew. The addition of the copters would mean the state could provide Med-Evac service to southern Maryland, and expand 24-hour service to the Cumberland and Centreville areas. The $24 million proposal also calls for hiring 25 pilots, mechanics and related personnel, a new communications system and better training programs for pilots and paramedics.
The proposal was prompted by the deaths of two state troopers, who died Jan. 19 when their helicopter went down in heavy fog. Drunken Driving Measures Approved
The state Senate has unanimously passed a legislative package aimed at curbing drunken driving in Maryland, including a bill that would make refusal to take a breathalyzer test admissible evidence in a trial.
Currently, state law does not allow prosecutors in a drunken driving trial to submit evidence that a driver refused to take a chemical test for alcohol.
Another measure, part of a series of bills drafted by the Governor's Task Force on the Drinking Driver, would authorize the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) or a judge to impose an "alcohol restriction" on certain drivers.
The restriction, which would be indicated on licenses in a manner similar to current medical or vision restrictions, would prohibit license holders from driving or attempting to drive a vehicle while having any alcohol in their bloodstreams.
Drivers caught defying the restrictions would face a maximum penalty of two months in prison and a $500 fine. "That would give teeth to the alcohol restriction," Howard County District Judge Dianne Schulte told lawmakers during a legislative hearing.
Also receiving Senate approval was a bill that would require the MVA to expand its records of drivers receiving probation prior to judgment. Currently, probation before judgment for drunken driving offenses are recorded, but similar judgments for offenses that may be the result of alcohol use, such as reckless driving and fleeing the scene of an accident, are not.
The cornerstone of the task force bills -- a measure that would have made a .13 percent blood alcohol level conclusive proof of driving while intoxicated -- died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Currently, a .13 percent level cannot be the sole basis for a drunken driving conviction.
Maryland's blood alcohol level for driving while intoxicated is currently one of the most lax in the nation, trailing only Colorado at .15 percent.