Victory at last for felony DUI bill

The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Padden’s Report From Olympia, May 18, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Padden’s newsletters, click here.

The end of a long road: Gov. Inslee signs the felony DUI bill Tuesday.

Dear friends and neighbors,

At long last, our effort to make the 4th DUI a felony in the state of Washington has cleared the final hurdle and is on its way into the lawbooks. Gov. Jay Inslee signed this important piece of legislation Tuesday at a ceremony in Tacoma, along with other bills stiffening DUI laws and beefing up Washington’s law banning the use of handheld phones and other electronic devices while driving.

The felony DUI bill proved one of the biggest challenges of my legislative career. Other news this week includes our announcement that the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which I chair, will investigate claims that Sound Transit misled the public in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties when it promoted its $54 million bond issue last year – a matter of high car-tab fees that has become a major issue in the central Puget Sound area. This week’s newsletter will fill you in on these developments.




Sen. Mike Padden

Felony DUI bill finally becomes law

Gov. Inslee’s signature on the felony DUI bill capped a four-year effort by concerned lawmakers to toughen Washington’s laws against driving under the influence. This state has been an outlier among states that allow felony penalties for repeat DUIs and related crimes. Until now, it has taken four misdemeanor convictions for DUI within 10 years before the fifth can be charged as a felony. Most other states allow felony charges on the third offense, including our neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho. Felony convictions mean longer sentences and prison time.

Chatting with KOMO-TV’s Keith Eldridge at Tuesday’s bill-signing.

The campaign got under way in 2013, when a spate of deadly traffic accidents prompted the Legislature to pass a bill I sponsored that tightened DUI laws, stiffened penalties, and created a task force to recommend further revisions to state law. Our effort to strengthen Washington’s felony DUI law hit a brick wall in the House, however. We passed the measure multiple times in the Senate — six unanimous votes since 2015 — but it languished in the House because leaders would not permit a vote. The measure appeared headed for the same oblivion in this year’s regular session, until news broke that a Renton man had been arrested in Seattle for his 11th DUI. The House quickly passed Senate Bill 5037 by a vote of 85-13.

Passage of the bill required a major consciousness-raising effort in the House and Senate, to educate lawmakers about the horrendous toll of drunk and drugged-driving accidents. Some argued that treatment was the better option. But those who reach the felony level already have had multiple opportunities for treatment and other programs. For most people, a DUI arrest is a signal that they need to change their behaviors. Repeat offenders, who pose the greatest danger on our roadways, never hear that wake-up call. In these cases, longer sentences will help keep them off the road.

The bill-signing ceremony was attended by many who have worked for the bill’s passage over the years – law enforcement and transportation officials, prosecutors, representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and families of DUI victims. Many have become familiar to the Legislature after testifying for the bill so many times. We couldn’t have done it without their support.


New law reopens door to police blood draws in DUI cases

Another DUI bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday, House Bill 1614, sponsored by House Public Safety Chair Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, makes many additional revisions to state statutes – and corrects a major goof. In 2015, a bill established certification procedures for those who perform blood draws for law enforcement purposes. But a partial veto eliminated a portion of the bill dealing with law enforcement officers and corrections employees. That meant non-medical personnel could no longer draw blood so that alcohol and drug levels could be determined and used in DUI prosecutions.

Although medical personnel were still able to perform blood draws, delays have created problems for DUI prosecutions, because alcohol and drug levels dissipate over time. I sponsored a bill this session to correct the problem. Though this measure did not receive a vote in the House, it was added to Goodman’s bill and now has become law as well.


Law and Justice Committee to investigate Sound Transit

Here’s what has the central Puget Sound area howling: A typical 2013 Honda Accord has a resale value of $12,000, according to the National Auto Dealers Association, but Sound Transit taxes it as if it is worth $17,000 – and the owner must pay $187 on top of other fees when renewing car tabs. Actual resale value of the 2012 Ford Explorer is $16,750, but Sound Transit assigns a value of $22,588, meaning a new tax of $248.

While local taxes in the central Puget Sound area may not be a major concern to us in the 4th Legislative District, the integrity of local-government institutions certainly is. A $54 billion bond issue last fall for the construction of new light-rail facilities in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties has become one of the biggest issues for this year’s Legislature. Many voters feel they were misled by a campaign that insisted taxes would be affordable. They learned otherwise when they started receiving bills for new car tabs – Sound Transit was relying on an inflated car-valuation schedule that bears no relationship to actual car values, and which was junked by the state years ago.

The committee was approached by Sens. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, and Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish. These senators have been leading the effort in the Legislature to base car valuations on actual selling prices, and have made serious allegations regarding misleading claims made during last year’s campaign. These allegations merit further consideration and a full airing in public view. We will hold at least one work session on the affair once the agencies involved turn over public records.

This will be the committee’s first formal investigation since its inquiry last year into mismanagement and misconduct at the state Department of Corrections. Any time a public agency is alleged to have acted or failed to act in a way that harms the public, the Legislature should step in to carefully consider the matter.


In the news: Did Sound Transit mislead legislators and voters? Washington state Senate panel to investigate

A story in the Seattle Times Tuesday outlines the issues involved in the Law and Justice Committee’s investigation of Sound Transit. You can read it here. The Times reports,

Rossi and O’Ban allege that the 2015 bill the Legislature passed authorizing the ST3 ballot measure was unconstitutional because it used confusing language that led to the transit agency continuing to use the inflated valuation schedule, rather than the newer, more accurate one.

…The two senators also allege that Sound Transit may have been misleading in the length of time that it wanted taxing authorization. They note that a widely publicized $15 billion total tax-collection figure morphed into a longer, $28 billion in total taxes and a $54 billion total package.

The authorizing legislation passed by the Legislature, which O’Ban voted for, was open-ended in time frame, but the senators argue that Sound Transit misled them.

“The reason that legislators relied on Sound Transit’s representations in committee testimony was that the total authorization was $15 billion over a 16-year time period,” Rossi and O’Ban write. “Based upon that testimony, they had no reason to limit the time period of the authorization.” The two senators also allege that a Sound Transit survey on ST3 may have improperly used public funds for political purposes, something that was publicized at the time.


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