How budget constraints narrowed Olympia’s DUI crackdown
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ultimately, the so-called “most aggressive” DUI crackdown in state history proved too expensive to actually become law.
Three months after a gruesome crash in Seattle propelled the Legislature to consider toughening DUI laws, state lawmakers agreed this week to a set of changes much narrower than initial proposals unveiled with much fanfare.
Senate Bill 5912, unanimously approved by that chamber Wednesday and the House on Thursday, would require faster charges and an initial jail stint for repeat offenders. But it would not increase mandatory minimum penalties or change the fact that a DUI in Washington state is not counted as a felony until it is committed five times in 10 years.
Supporters said those provisions would have cost up to $300 million over the next three years — ultimately more than lawmakers were willing to spend.
The amended bill is estimated to cost about $2 million a year.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign it soon.
“This is what we can get support for this session and what can be financed,” said David Postman, an Inslee spokesman. “It’s going to cut down on impaired driving in this state, and you can’t walk away from something like that just because it’s not everything. It’s too important an issue to do that.”
Postman and other supporters described the bill as a targeted approach to a difficult public-safety problem.
The amended bill’s centerpiece would address an issue that is especially prevalent in King County: delays in filing DUI charges.
The proposal would require those with a previous DUI conviction who are again arrested on suspicion of drunken driving to be booked into jail and held until charges are filed within the next three days.
An alcohol-sensing ignition-interlock device would then be required in the suspect’s car.
The bill would also create a three-county, two-city pilot program in which some repeat DUI offenders would be electronically monitored 24 hours a day to prevent them from drinking.
It would also expand DUI courts and restrict deferred sentencing, increase treatment and supervision of some offenders, establish a working group to study further changes.
“There’s a lot more work to be done, but this is a major watershed bill that’s going to save lives,” said House Public Safety Committee Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.
Others, however, said lawmakers should have found the money to do more.
Dan Schulte, whose parents were killed and wife and infant son critically injured in a North Seattle crash that authorities say was alcohol-related, said he had “mixed feelings” about lawmakers’ final product.
“I’m pleased to know the Legislature is working on the issue,” Schulte wrote in a statement to The Seattle Times. “However, I do not believe the bill goes far enough.”
State Rep. Brad Klippert agreed.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” said Klippert, R-Kennewick. “It’s obviously very different than what we have been talking about.”
The bill’s original version was crafted in the aftermath of the March 25 crash involving Schulte’s family and another fatal alcohol-related crash days later on Highway 520.
Inslee seized on the issue, calling an April 16 news conference with lawmakers to unveil a proposal he called “the most aggressive, the most effective, the most ambitious” in state history.
Since then, the proposal has gradually been trimmed amid financial concerns from local government officials and some Republicans and policy concerns from civil libertarians and some Democrats.
First to go was the original proposal’s centerpiece: a decadelong alcohol-purchasing prohibition for those convicted of DUI three times.
Opponents said that was unworkable because it would have required the state to make a new driver’s license and would require bars to card all patrons.
Next went the narrowing of proposed requirements that all drunken-driving suspects be arrested, charged quickly and automatically outfitted with an ignition-interlock device.
Opponents said it would be more effective to focus on repeat offenders.
Then lawmakers changed the 24/7 alcohol-monitoring program from a statewide effort to a pilot, citing the need for further study.
As the regular session ended, Inslee said negotiators were 95 percent of the way to an agreement, and other participants said they were even closer.
But financial concerns remained.
Supporters stripped away increases in mandatory minimum jail sentences.
And finally, on Wednesday afternoon, top Senate negotiator Mike Padden dropped his demand that DUI become a felony upon the fourth conviction, not the fifth.
“A lot of people wanted it,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “I think a majority of the Legislature probably wanted it, but we had this financial stuff.”
Supporters said they hope to revive many of the rejected ideas next year.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal