Senate approves Padden’s felony DUI look-back proposal

Spokane Valley lawmaker calls on the House to follow suit quickly

OLYMPIA… Today the Senate voted 41-7 to approve Senate Bill 5054, a measure aimed at strengthening the state’s felony-DUI law and reducing the pain and suffering faced by victims of impaired drivers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, would extend the “look-back” in DUI cases, allowing courts to consider convictions over the previous 15 years during sentencing.

Washington makes the 4th DUI conviction a felony, but under state law, courts may only consider convictions within the previous 10 years.

“We know repeat offenders pose the greatest danger on our roads and highways,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Right now, during the pandemic, traffic is down 10 percent or more, but impaired driving is up substantially. So, the need for this legislation is stronger than ever.

“We need to end the scourge of impaired driving and prevent this most unnecessary loss of life.”

A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered that nearly one-third of all DUI arrests and DUI convictions involved repeat impaired-driving offenders. The data also showed that a person with a prior DUI has 4.1 times the risk of being involved in a fatal automobile accident. An analysis of crash data revealed that drivers with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeding .08 were 8 times more likely to be repeat offenders.

In another study, researchers found that the chances of being involved in a fatal car accident increased with every additional DUI arrest.

Padden has worked for more than a decade to strengthen the state’s DUI laws and give members of law enforcement and courts more tools to prosecute offenders. In 2020, he sponsored a similar look-back bill; its House counterpart (HB 1504) died without a final vote.

“Every time someone suggests that we shouldn’t need to pass new DUI legislation every year, I have to agree,” said Padden. “We shouldn’t, but the long list of DUI victims makes it clear that we do.

“I look forward to the day when we eliminate all DUI drivers, and the devastation and pain they cause our families and communities. But until that day, we must give our prosecutors and members of law enforcement every tool we can to take these dangerous repeat offenders off our streets.”

While the Senate has consistently passed Padden’s DUI legislation with large bipartisan majorities, the House of Representatives has sometimes presented obstacles to final passage. Padden called on the House leadership to fast-track passage of SB 5054 and for budget writers to fully fund the measure.

“This legislation is critical to saving lives, and should be advanced without haste,” Padden concluded. “We can’t afford to allow this bill to linger in the other chamber and then get lost in the final, hectic closing days of the session.

“Let’s get it to the governor’s desk immediately and send a clear signal to all who are watching that we are committed to protecting Washingtonians from repeat DUI offenders.”