With a special session on May 13 looming, Democrats and Republicans in the Washington State Legislature are “light years apart” on many issues. One subject that is facing strong bipartisan support is finalizing the details of a new DUI bill.
“I’m happy to say we have made great progress in our bipartisan effort to fashion a vigorous and effective fight against drunken driving,” said Gov. Jay Inslee on Sunday night.
In the wake of a recent spate of fatal DUI-related crashes in the Seattle area, State Representative Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, spearheaded an effort to reform Washington’s drunk-driving legislation. The soon-to-be proposed bill will include some key changes:
An individual arrested on suspicion of DUI who has a prior conviction on his record will not be released from jail until he sees a judge. In the accidents that killed Morgan Fick Williams and Dennis & Judy Schulte, both drivers were awaiting trial for pending DUI cases.
Drivers arrested for drunk driving would have five days to install an ignition-interlock device in their vehicles. Currently, the ignition-interlock device, which prevents the car from starting if the driver is drunk, is not installed until after a conviction.
A fourth DUI, instead of a fifth, would be a felony.
Prison sentences for a second or third DUI would be increased by several months. Convicted drivers could opt out of jail time by seeking treatment for alcohol abuse or enrolling in an alcohol-monitoring program in which they could not drink.
The above innovations would specifically target repeat offenders, who are disproportionately responsible for the amount of DUI cases in Washington each year. The question that remains is whether the new budget will include provisions for implementing the DUI bill.
If a fourth DUI becomes a felony, then the state will have to allocate funds for a new prison facility. The same will be true if repeat offenders face harsher sentences.
Come May 13, lawmakers will have to decide if they can afford to watch helplessly as yet another victim dies at hands of a drunk driver.