A Washington Senate Committee approved legislation that would toughen up penalties for repeat DUI offenders. Drafted by Republican Senator Mike Padden of Spokane Valley, the bill would allow prosecutors to seek a felony charge for fourth time DUI offenders. It requires that the prior 3 convictions would have taken place in the last 10 years. The bill was the brainchild of a 2013 impaired driving workgroup that sought to reduce vehicular deaths in the state. Similar bills met their end on the legislative cutting room floor after they were deemed too expensive to implement.
A hearing was held on the bill last week, during which constituents could share their personal stories and experiences with repeat drunk drivers. An affected man spoke, explaining how his parents were killed and his wife and son left permanently disabled after all four were struck by a drunk driver, who happened to be a five-time offender. Reps from MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving were also present at the hearing. Kathy Kester, a mother of a slain DUI victim, gave tearful testimony at the hearing. Dale Pannettoni of Yakima, Washington spoke of how his father-in-law was struck from behind by a drunk driver while out walking.
The bill has been under legislative consideration since 2015. Currently, in Washington, felony charges do not apply until an individual's 5th DUI, but this is the highest threshold within the 45 states that legally position repeat DUI's as a felony. Padden, who has fought for the legislation the last four years, hopes to bring the state in step with neighbors Oregon and Idaho, whose stricter DUI laws have a mere three strikes for DUI offenders.The measure to make 4th DUIs a felony has the potential to add up to 276 more felony prosecutions each year, at a cost of roughly $5 million a year. According to MyNorthwest, many cite overcrowded prisons and the exorbitant price tags of such legislation as the principal reason why it continues to fail in the House. Governor Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson have both expressed their approval for the bill.
The bill was met with a unanimous vote in the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which is chaired by Padden, but must pass through other committees and the House before actually becoming law. In the last 4 years, the House is where it has repeatedly stalled due to budget concerns. If the bill is, in fact, passed into law, the 4th DUI felony charge would carry with it a 13 - 17 month sentence.
In response to the rise of distracted driving accidents and deaths, lawmakers are looking to address regulations on using mobile devices while driving. Earlier this month, Washington lawmakers announced plans to draft a bill that would ban all use of handheld devices in the car except in case of emergency.