AG Ferguson and Sen. Padden urge House action on felony DUI bill

Today the House Public Safety Committee heard public testimony on a measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden that would make a fourth DUI conviction within 10 years a felony.

“This bill is really about going after those repeat offenders who are putting the public at risk and even taking lives,” said Padden, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “This change would help deter some people from driving drunk, and take those who refuse to change their behavior off our roads.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson joined Padden in urging the House to take immediate action to advance Senate Bill 5105.

“We must strengthen our DUI laws to keep families safe on the road,” said Ferguson. “According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, impaired drivers cause 50 percent of traffic fatalities in Washington state. In 2013, 220 people died in crashes that involved an impaired driver. While our state has worked hard to put smart new measures in place, these numbers are still tragically high.

“I urge the House to pass this common-sense bill to hold repeat offenders accountable and keep impaired drivers off the road.”

Forty-five states have felony-DUI laws; of those only Washington requires five convictions within a 10-year period to constitute a felony. Neighboring Oregon and Idaho require only three DUI convictions.

SB 5105 would make a fourth DUI-related offense in 10 years a class C felony, meaning offenders face time in state prison rather than county jail.

“For many of the family members of victims, this still does not go far enough,” said Padden R-Spokane Valley. “I agree; by the time people are caught driving under the influence three times, they have more than likely gotten away with it on dozens of other occasions.

“But this bill is a significant step in the right direction. It puts those who drive drunk over and over again on notice that we take this crime seriously and will continue to work to protect lives and punish repeat offenders.”

The bill would also create an additional $50 fee, which would be assessed on all persons convicted, sentenced to a lesser charge, or given a deferred prosecution as a result of a conviction for DUI, being in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence, vehicular homicide or vehicular assault. The money would go to the highway safety account to be used solely for funding Washington Traffic Safety Commission grants to organizations within counties to combat driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

SB 5105 received support from Linda Thompson with the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council; Jon Tunheim, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; and James McMahon, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

The measure passed the Senate unanimously April 3, and is also funded in the Senate’s operating-budget proposal, which passed in that chamber April 6.