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Web site list of multi-OVI drivers only tip of iceberg

COLUMBUS — A Web site that was supposed to keep Ohioans safer by naming the worst drunken drivers lists only 96 repeat offenders statewide — fewer than 1 percent of all multiple OVI offenders on the road.

That’s because state legislation intended to create a public database of almost 36,000 Ohioans with five or more OVI convictions was weakened just before it became law in 2008. Last-minute changes to Senate Bill 17 kept the names of most prior OVI offenders a secret.

Only people with five more convictions, the last occurring after Sept. 29, 2008, are included on the state Department of Public Safety’s “habitual offender” Web site. That means an estimated 36,000 Ohioans with five or more OVI convictions since 1973 — but whose last conviction pre-dates Sept. 30, 2008, when the law took effect — are not included on the public Web site.

That surprised even the bill’s sponsor.

State Sen. Timothy Grendell said that was not his intent when his legislation was amended in the Ohio House. Grendell said he was unaware until The Cincinnati Enquirer told him Wednesday that only the names of newly convicted drunken drivers get publicized — and only after their fifth conviction.

Grendell, a Republican from Chesterland in Geauga County, promised to introduce new legislation in 2010 that will publicize the names of all Ohioans with five or more drunken-driving convictions.

“That’s not right,” he said. “If you have five or more you should be on (the public list) now. I have some work to do.”

Wording in Senate Bill 17 was changed to publicize the names of those “convicted” five or more times for impaired driving, instead of “arrested” at least five times. State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, who was in the Ohio House at the time, said he insisted the word “arrested” be changed because of the presumption someone is innocent until convicted.

But the cutoff date to get included in the database also was quietly changed, something Seitz did not take credit for. It’s not clear who lobbied for the change, or which legislator engineered it.

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