A bipartisan group of lawmakers held a press conference Monday to call on the Legislature to pass harsher drunk driving laws before session ends on Thursday.
Lawmakers want action on Senate Bill 5105 and House Bill 2700, which would both expand existing DUI laws. The Senate bill would allow for a felony prosecution on a person’s fourth DUI conviction. The House bill would speed up the process for drunk drivers to have their driver licenses suspended.
“Washington currently has one of the weakest felony DUI laws in the country,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who is sponsoring the Senate bill. He said that of the 46 states that have felony DUI laws, Washington is the only state that requires five DUI convictions within 10 years before it’s a felony.
Both bills are tied to the House and Senate supplemental budgets, which are currently being negotiated.
“We are going to continue to work with the budget negotiators in both the transportation and operating budget to get both the House and Senate to emphasis the absolute importance of these pieces of legislation,” Padden said.
Lawmakers were joined by families of DUI victims including Joan Davis, a board member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Her daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2008.
“Our offender, our killer has been a repeat offender after the DUI homicide conviction,” Davis said. “He’s been back in jail one time. We’ve got to get these people off the roads and we’ve got to keep them off the road.”
The Senate bill would cost the state about $10 million every two years when fully implemented, but Davis said the cost is greater than that. “Personally, I don’t care what it costs, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “You can never replace the lives that have been lost.”
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, is sponsoring the House bill. He said that offenders are finding ways to work the system.
“The tragedies continue despite all our good work…and we really want these pieces of legislation to pass this session to send a strong message and to achieve the objectives of reducing deaths on our road ways,” Goodman said.
Dan Schulte and his wife, Karina, were also at the press conference. He said that in 2013 him and his wife, Karina, welcomed their new son, Elias.
“Ten days later it was my first day back to work when Karina, my wife, my son and my parents were out for a walk,” he said. “They were crossing the street when a repeat offender struck them and killed my parents and permanently disabled my wife and my son.”
Schulte said that the driver was a repeat offender who found loopholes in the system. “He didn’t have the interlock ignition installed and the monitoring wasn’t sufficient,” he said.
“He was out there drinking three times the limit at 4 p.m. when he hit my family,” Schulte said.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said he has been working on the Senate bill for several years and doesn’t know why action hasn’t been taken.
“For the life of me I have not been able to understand why this is controversial, what the issue is and why we can’t join the rest of the states that are at least in the mainstream,” he said.
Both chambers of the Legislature recently approved House Bill 2280, which increases a felony DUI penalty from a class C felony to a class B felony on the fifth offense. It’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
The prime sponsor of that bill, Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said that more needs to be done. He said that it is Legislature’s “legal and moral obligation to these victims” and to society.
Ultimately, Klippert said he would like to see the Legislature make a DUI a felony on the third offense.
“We think that that would be that would be a more righteous thing,” he said.