Padden continues work to clamp down on repeat DUI offenders

padden_pqOf the 45 states that allow felony charges for those accused of driving under the influence, none is more lenient than Washington; Sen. Mike Padden’s effort to change that dangerous distinction received strong support during a Senate committee hearing today.

Padden, architect of the sweeping anti-DUI legislation Washington lawmakers adopted in 2013, is back with Senate Bill 6090. It would make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony, rather than the misdemeanor it is now, meaning state prison rather than county jail.

“The 44 other states with felony-DUI laws make the fourth DUI offense, if not the third, a felony,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who chairs the Senate panel. “Considering DUI is a completely preventable crime, and anyone who racks up even four offenses in 10 years is clearly a serious danger to others on the road, it’s time for our state to adopt a stronger standard.”

Last year’s comprehensive bill would have lowered the felony-DUI threshold to four convictions; however, that part of Padden’s measure was sidelined by concerns about what it would cost the state to care for more prisoners.

Padden’s 2013 bill also created an impaired-driving work group that met during the fall; it strongly endorsed a drop in the felony-DUI threshold. The costs associated with SB 6090 are being determined by the state’s budget office, Padden said.

“As our committee was told today, there is a cost to putting more DUI offenders in prison, but there’s also a cost if they’re not in prison and continue to maim or kill people,” Padden said.

Those testifying in favor of SB 6090 today included Linda Thompson, executive director of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council and mother of a child killed by a drunken driver in 1986; Mark Lindquist, Pierce County prosecutor; Amy Freedheim, King County’s chief DUI prosecutor; Don Pierce, of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs; and Seattle resident Dan Schulte, who saw his parents killed and his wife and infant son badly injured by a repeat DUI offender nearly a year ago. All but Thompson are with organizations that were represented on the impaired-driving work group.

A bill introduced by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, would extend the “lookback” period for counting prior DUI convictions to 15 years, from the 10 years now in state law. If his measure and Padden’s become law, the felony-DUI standard would become four offenses in 15 years, not five in 10 years. A vote on SB 6090 could come later this week.