A measure approved today by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee would criminalize repeat drunk driving offenses in certain cases. It now heads to the full Assembly.

Unlike neighboring states, New Jersey counts driving under the influence as only a motor vehicle violation for first-time and repeat offenders. In some cases, DUI offenders can get behind the wheel for weeks or months before an initial court appearance.

Under the bill, criminal penalties would be established for second and subsequent DUI offenses that occur within 60 days of the first violation. The court would be required to immediately suspend the person's driver's license, and the judge would be permitted to impose bail in an amount up to $10,000. Currently, repeat offenders do not have to post bail to leave custody after an arrest.

Also, repeat offenders within 60 days would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree, if convicted. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 18 months, or both.

Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D), a sponsor of the measure, said the "60-day rule" was suggested by prosecutors across the state. He said the bill probably wouldn't have an easy time advancing if it included a wider timeframe.

"If you get two DUIs within a year, you would not fall into this legislation," explained Albano.

Albano said the legislation targets individuals who are "taking advantage of the law."

The bill was formulated after a Vineland man was arrested five times in five weeks for drunken driving. Anderson Sotomayer couldn't be detained until one of his DUI stops resulted in a drug charge.

"The police department was so frustrated; the judge was so frustrated. The individual was arrested for multiple DUIs and hadn't gone to court for the first one; there was nothing they could do to hold this individual," said Albano.

The 1st-District Assemblyman lost his 19 year old son in 2001 when a drunken driver ran a red light in Vineland.

The measure would also require law enforcement officers expedite the process of inputting DUI violations into the electronic system. Currently, it could take days. The law requires input within three hours of the end of an officer's shift.