Padden laments Legislature’s lack of progress to address impaired driving

The day after its annual session at the state Capitol ended, 4th Legislative District Sen. Mike Padden is criticizing the Legislature’s inability to pass a meaningful bill that would help combat impaired driving.

“The Legislature missed a golden opportunity to start reversing the disturbing increase in traffic accidents caused by impaired driving,” said Padden, the ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “In the final days of the session, a bill that represented a significant step toward addressing impaired driving stalled because of inaction by House Democrats and because certain legislators did not like it for one reason or another. As a result, our state likely will continue to see even more traffic accidents and traffic deaths because of impaired driving.”

According to statistics compiled by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Washington road deaths reached a 20-year high in 2021. There were 670 traffic deaths in 2021, including 272 fatalities involving drug-impaired driving and 155 deaths involving alcohol-impaired driving. In 2020, Washington had 574 traffic fatalities, including 214 involving drug-impaired driving and 135 involving alcohol-impaired driving.

The commission has a current preliminary estimate of 745 traffic fatalities in 2022. No 2022 figures on traffic deaths involving drug- or alcohol-impaired driving are available yet.

“This year offered a great chance to start to turn things around in our state when it comes to impaired driving,” Padden, R-Spokane Valley, added today. “Many legislators wanted to strengthen the law to finally tackle this growing problem. It’s very disappointing to see our effort thwarted at the very end. The people of Washington deserve better.”

Padden pointed to House Bill 1493, which had been unanimously passed by the House in March and the Senate earlier this month. The version passed by the Senate included language from Senate Bill 5032, Padden’s bipartisan measure that would expand the period for reviewing prior convictions of impaired driving to 15 years, from the 10 years now in state law, when determining whether a new offense of impaired driving is charged as a felony. Under SB 5032, any person who has three or more prior DUI offenses within that 15-year lookback period would face a felony, rather than the current penalty of a gross misdemeanor. SB 5032 would give offenders a chance to undergo a highly structured treatment program.

Padden said state Rep. Roger Goodman, the chair of the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee, agreed to add SB 5032 language to HB 1493 while SB 5032 was in the House.

After the House last Monday voted to refuse to concur (or agree) with the Senate’s amendments, the Senate last Thursday voted to recede from its original amendments to the bill and then added a floor amendment that included language found in SB 5032 before unanimously passing the newly amended HB 1493. In other words, the Senate passed the policy language for SB 5032 three times this session, and the Senate approved HB 1493 twice this year.

However, the House did not bring the latest version of HB 1493 to the floor for a vote before the 2023 session adjourned last night.

It was the third straight year that the language found in SB 5032 had been approved by the Senate, only to not be passed by the House.

“We don’t know why Representative Goodman could not help bring House Bill 1493 to the House floor for a vote during the final days of the session,” said Padden. “It just languished in the House after the Senate made the changes to it that the House wanted. It was on the House concurrence calendar and there was time for the House to vote on it. The inaction by the House to bring it up for a vote is mind-boggling and a huge disappointment.”

Another disappointment for Padden was an 11th-hour decision to pull $400,000 from the 2023-25 state transportation budget – money that would have funded the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to establish a pilot program by March 2024 to evaluate the outcomes and effectiveness of oral swab tests to detect alcohol/drug combination DUI violations.

“The Traffic Safety Commission would have worked with the State Patrol and law-enforcement associations in selecting at least 10 locations to implement the pilot program as part of field-sobriety evaluations for possible DUI violations,” said Padden. “That funding would have allowed law enforcement to see how effective the oral-swab tests would help in determining if drivers were legally impaired. The funding was part of the Senate transportation budget plan, so it’s very disappointing that it was yanked out at the last minute.”

Padden noted that the new state operating budget passed by the Legislature yesterday does include ongoing funding for drug courts and the operating budget and the new state transportation budget together provide roughly a $6 million increase for toxicology labs, primarily to deal with backlogs and to open a new lab in Federal Way.

“It was good to see money for the drug courts and toxicology lab in these budgets, so there is some positive news this session about combating impaired driving. But so much more should have been done this year. What a wasted effort,” added Padden.