Padden: Time for Washington to get tough on repeat DUI offenders

Law and Justice Committee hears testimony on Padden measure to make fourth DUI a felony

When a father, mother, grandfather, husband or friend is ripped away by the actions of a drunk driver, the pain and impact caused by that can reverberate through a family and a community. The demand for justice and the desire to prevent others from having to feel that pain can be just as strong.

That is the message delivered to the state Senate Law and Justice Committee today, as lawmakers heard testimony on a bill introduced by Sen. Mike Padden aimed at changing one of the country’s most lenient driving-under-the-influence laws.

Senate Bill 5105 would make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony, not a misdemeanor, meaning state prison rather than county jail. Forty-five states have felony-DUI laws; of those Washington is the only state requiring five convictions within a 10-year period. Washington law is also the nation’s weakest when it comes to prison time for those convicted of driving under the influence.

Among those testifying on the bill were the family members of Russell Bartlett, who on the morning of May 29, 2014, was struck down by a drunk driver in Yakima.

“The heart-wrenching and compelling stories that we heard from the loved ones who testified today should move all of us to action and convince us that we can no longer sit back and accept the status quo,” said Padden, the committee chair. “As law enforcement and others testified today, by the time someone has reached their fourth DUI, they clearly pose a serious danger to everyone else on the road, and require a higher level of intervention to keep them from putting others in harm again and again.

“No family should have to go through this type of sudden, completely preventable trauma. As lawmakers, we have an obligation to these families – and any potential future victims – to do everything in our power to strengthen our DUI laws.”