Senator dismayed by failure of DUI bill, will try again

OLYMPIA – Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, says he will try again next year to pass a bill that would send more repeat impaired drivers to prison, after a disappointing failure in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session.

House Bill 1504 would have extended the “look-back” in DUI cases, allowing courts to consider convictions within the last 15 years when issuing sentences. Washington law permits felony charges and prison terms for impaired drivers on their fourth conviction within the 10 years.

Though the measure enjoyed broad support from Republicans and most Democrats, the measure foundered in the House when individual Democrats raised objections to sending more impaired drivers to prison. Some indicated they thought it cost too much money.

The additional prison time for repeat offenders would have cost the state $2 million annually. The Legislature had more than $5 billion in additional tax collections this year, and majority Democrats voted to raise taxes billions of dollars more.

“We have to have priorities, and if we care about saving some lives of our citizens, that should be a priority,” Padden said. “If we are going to be concerned about the cost, we should also be concerned about the cost of the carnage on our highways, the dollars and cents, the lives lost and the impact on the loved ones of DUI victims.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a conservative or a liberal, urban or rural. This is a problem throughout the state, and the coalition that supported this bill reflected that.”

According to a legislative analysis, the measure would have increased the state prison population by 137 inmates at any given time, once it had been in force for several years. House Bill 1504 also included several non-controversial provisions that would have increased penalties and fines for DUI offenses involving passengers under age 18, and would have increased monthly fees for drivers required to use ignition interlock devices.

Padden introduced a longer look-back measure early in the session. When that bill died, the Senate amended HB 1504 to include the longer look-back provision, but the House balked at the amendment. Efforts to revive the bill continued to be mounted in the session’s final hours Sunday night, but House Democratic leaders remained adamant and the bill died.

Padden said a longer look-back would help reduce one of the state’s biggest embarrassments – cases in which drunk drivers have been arrested numerous times, but have not faced prison time because of the state’s short look-back. News stories have described how some offenders have been arrested as many as 17 times on suspicion of DUI, but have not served prison terms. Another case this month involved a man arrested eight times.

Many states do not have a look-back provision, and felony penalties are based on an offender’s lifetime record.

Padden noted that the measure was supported by members of both parties, and would likely have passed by a wide margin if House Democratic leaders had permitted the House to vote. “I want to be clear, this is not a partisan issue. We couldn’t have gotten it through the Senate without the support of the majority party, and we appreciate the efforts of everyone who saw this as an important issue. Our challenge next year will be to convince individual members that impaired driving is a serious problem that warrants the Legislature’s attention.”