By CHRIS LEYDEN, Capital News Service
Hundreds of Mothers Against Drunk Driving supporters descended on Capitol Hill Thursday, lobbying senators and representatives for full highway safety funding and victims' rights.
The day kicked off with a rally, with members from as far as Guam showing their support for victims of drunken driving accidents.
"People who are involved with MADD are very passionate about this cause because they know, they personally have experienced the devastation," said MADD National President Jan Withers, who lives in Upper Marlboro.
MADD is advocating on two separate issues while in Washington. The first is full funding for highway safety programs, which was not included in the continuing resolution recently passed by Congress.
The second issue is a constitutional amendment to allow crime victims to be more informed about court proceedings in their case. According to MADD, although every state has a statute protecting crime victims' rights, the Constitution only protects defendants' rights.
Withers said she frequently speaks with members of Congress about supporting MADD.
"Drunk driving isn't just numbers," said Withers, who pointed to U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, as a frequent supporter. "It really affects real people."
Tony Gianninoto, a 60-year-old resident of Preston and part of Maryland's MADD contingent, said the group was planning to visit the offices of Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, as well as Maryland Reps. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville; Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington; and Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
"We are going to talk to them about supporting federal safety highway laws," said Gianninoto, who became involved with MADD 10 years ago after his daughter was injured in a drunken driving accident. "(I) hope that our legislators will lend an ear."
Maryland State Police Lt. Tom Woodward was also on hand and said without full funding, "what law enforcement is able to accomplish is going to be drastically diminished."
"Very effective programs may cease to exist because there is no funding there to pay for the people to be out there," said Woodward.
Woodward warned that while the funding usually still ends up coming, it's not possible to properly plan how to spend it.
"You give me money today, I might be able to spend it tomorrow. Probably not effectively, but I can spend it. That's not what I want as a taxpayer," said Woodward. "I want the money to be used effectively, efficiently, get the most bang for the buck, and it's hard to do when it's a little bit here, a little bit here, a little bit here."