Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau has proposed a bill to allow fire departments to charge up to $2,500 for responding to a drunken-driving crash.

Thibodeau, R-Winterport, told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Monday that the bill would help struggling rural departments manage some of the expense of running a fire department, including the cost of deploying heavy equipment when responding to a drunken-driving crash.

“I think we could all agree local property taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for their poor decisions,” Thibodeau said, referring to drivers who crash because they are drunk. He said there is no intent to have people who are innocently involved in a crash to be billed for emergency responders’ time.

The bill was received warmly by committee members, some of whom have served on their local fire departments and could empathize with the hours spent at a crash scene. Thibodeau said the bill is not meant to compensate law enforcement for its response. Officers are almost always on duty when responding to a crash rather than getting called out, as are volunteer and call firefighters.

However, Walter McKee, speaking for the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the law already allows departments to recoup that cost. A judge can order an offender to pay restitution, which can include the cost of emergency responders. But McKee and legislators said departments almost never request it.

It’s not clear whether making the cost part of court-ordered restitution would make it harder to collect from the offender’s insurance company than it would if it were a billable item submitted right after the crash, as the proposed law envisions, much like a charge from a tow truck driver or a utility company that must replace a pole.

 


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