Padden’s felony-DUI bill moves to House for third time this year

For the third time since lawmakers convened at the state Capitol in January, the Washington state Senate has unanimously passed Sen. Mike Padden’s bill to make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony.

“We have only a few more days to act before the end of the current legislative session, and it is important that this legislation to take dangerous repeat DUI offenders off our roads be a part of the final go-home package,” said Padden, who chairs the Law and Justice Committee.

“The Senate has passed this common-sense bill unanimously three times this year, and it has the full support of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, law enforcement, prosecutors and – most importantly – victims’ families. It is now time for the House of Representatives to do its part and pass this much-needed legislation.”

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

Senate Bill 5105 would make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony, meaning state prison rather than county jail.

During today’s debate on his legislation, Padden and other members of the Senate shared stories of families harmed by drunk drivers.

“Among those who came to Olympia to share their stories with lawmakers were the family members of Russell Bartlett – a father and husband who did volunteer work at a hospice and was an active and vital member of his community,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “He was mowed down on a Yakima sidewalk by a drunk 27-year-old woman driving her boyfriend’s RV. It was a senseless, completely preventable trauma for both his family and the entire community.

“Heart-wrenching testimony, like that given by the Bartlett family, should shock every lawmaker out of complacency and push them toward action.”

Padden acknowledged that even if the bill clears the House, there will still be more work to do in order to protect Washingtonians from those determined to drive impaired.

“For many of the family members of victims I have talked to, Senate Bill 5105 does not go far enough,” said Padden. “I agree; by the time someone is caught driving under the influence three times, they have more than likely gotten away with it on dozens of other occasions.

“While making a fourth DUI a felony may not be the final step in strengthening our DUI laws, it is a good first step, and one the Legislature should take immediately.”