In 2004, Sen. Brad Hutto faced GOP opposition for re-election to the Senate seat he has held since 1996.
His Republican opponent said Democrat Hutto, an attorney, representing people in alcohol-related court cases conflicts with his role as a lawmaker: "He passes DUI bills and he defends (violators) and gets them off. The Highway Patrol tells me they are very upset about lawmakers defending against DUI. It's a clear conflict of interest."
The attack was not the first on Hutto related to driving-under-the-influence cases. In 1998, he was targeted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving amid MADD’s push to lower the blood-alcohol standard to a reading of .08 constituting guilt in driving-under-the-influence cases.
Hutto withstood criticism in arguing that a blood-alcohol reading cannot be absolute in establishing guilt. The accused is still entitled to a presumption of innocence and has a right to a day in court.
The two sides were able to agree on the concept, in Hutto’s words, “that a person’s right to a trial by a jury of their peers will be preserved and that we won’t have a machine totally making the decision on the criminal guilt or innocence of a person.”
As much as Hutto’s legal expertise makes his counsel often sought by Senate colleagues, MADD has also found the Orangeburg lawmaker to be a key player in working with the organization in writing anti-DUI legislation that can obtain legislative OK and pass legal muster.
In 2013, Hutto was recognized as a MADD Legislative Champion for his work on Emma’s Law, which requires ignition interlocks for all repeat and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol reading of .12 or greater.
“Ignition interlocks have a demonstrated track record of improving highway safety. A machine that actually deters bad judgment is better than a piece a paper telling someone they cannot drive,” Hutto said.
His work continues to draw praise from MADD.
On Nov. 1, the national organization named Hutto one of its 42 Legislators of the Year for 2017. He is one of two senators from South Carolina (Sen. Luke Rankin of Conway is the other) designated for the honor.
“MADD is proud to recognize and thank these 42 lawmakers who joined us in our mission to end this public safety crisis on our roadways and to serve victims of this violent crime,” MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church said. “Sadly, drunk driving remains the leading killer on our roads, and the numbers have increased for two straight years. We depend on the support and dedication of state legislators to reverse this trend and stop these tragedies.”
MADD stated that many of the legislative champions have played a major role in the organization’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving launched in 2006. A key component of the campaign calls for passage of all-offender interlock laws requiring the use of the ignition interlock for any convicted drunk driver seeking driving privileges during a license-suspension period.
Prior to the campaign, only one state -- New Mexico -- had an all-offender interlock law. Today, South Carolina and 29 other states, plus Washington, D.C., have them.
Other components of MADD’s campaign include supporting high-visibility law enforcement, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, advocating for development of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which is an advanced vehicle technology to passively detect alcohol on a driver’s breath, and supporting deployment of fully autonomous vehicles.
Specific to Hutto and Rankin, MADD is also recognizing them for sponsorship of a Senate bill known as Alli’s Law. It would require establishments selling alcohol by the drink to train their servers with a curriculum approved by the state. South Carolina currently has no such training requirements. Alli’s Law passed the Senate and awaits House action when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
“MADD applauds the leadership of Sen. Hutto and Sen. Rankin in fighting drunk driving in South Carolina. Their commitment to preventing over-serving at alcohol establishments will go a long way toward stopping the tragedies caused by drunk driving,” said Steven Burritt, program director of MADD South Carolina.
Attacks on lawyer-legislators are not new and likely will be heard again. Yet as much as Hutto as an attorney has represented people charged with DUI, that has not made him a lawmaker afraid to be out front in making effective laws related to DUI and highway safety.
It’s good to see that acknowledged with recognition from an organization such as MADD.