BOSTON >> Though lawmakers on the Transportation Committee could not reach an agreement on a bill that would expand the use of ignition interlock devices among convicted drunk drivers, the bill's supporters in the Senate still hope to see it come up for debate after the bill moved on Thursday.
The committee did not advance the bill by an extended May 2 deadline, generating an automatic unfavorable recommendation. Then, during an informal session with two senators present on Thursday, the Senate opted to send the bill to its Ways and Means Committee, keeping the bill alive and giving it a fresh start before a new committee.
Filed in January 2015 by Sen. James Timilty, the bill would require the installation of ignition interlock devices — which test a driver's blood-alcohol content before starting the car — in vehicles of all drunk driving offenders.
Under current law, ignition interlocks are required in Massachusetts for operators driving under a hardship license after two or more drunken driving convictions.
Transportation Committee Senate Chairman Tom McGee said the committee "ran out of time" to work out an agreement on the bill. He described the referral to Ways and Means as "action to revive the bill."
"We had a lot on the plate this year on the transportation side, but this is something I do support, and I look forward to the Senate taking it up for debate before the end of session," McGee told the News Service.
Sen. Joseph Boncore, who was sworn in two weeks ago and presided at Thursday's session, and Minority Leader Bruce Tarr were the only lawmakers in the chamber when the interlock bill came up.
Tarr, one of the bill's five cosponsors, said on the floor that he hoped the bill's referral would give the it an opportunity to move to the full Senate in an "expeditious way." He called interlocks an effective tool for keeping roads safe and urged his colleagues to work in a bipartisan manner to advance the bill.
Timilty could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Along with Timilty and Tarr, Sens. James Welch and Kathleen O'Connor Ives, both Democrats, have signed onto the bill.
Republican Reps. Bradley Jones, the minority leader, and Jay Barrows are House co-sponsors.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which supports Timilty's bill, 25 states require interlock devices for all drunk driving offenses.
McGee said broader interlock laws seem "to be working in other states." He said adopting the policy here would send "hopefully a message that drinking and driving is something people shouldn't be doing."
"I think the ability of us to maybe get it into the Senate, and have a real debate on it, and look at all the pieces of why the bill does make sense, and hear other perspectives would be a great opportunity," McGee said.
Formal sessions wrap up for the year on July 31. After that, bills can still advance during informal sessions but require unanimous consent, often an insurmountable hurdle for controversial bills.