Tentative deal on DUI laws; special session begins May 13
Sunday’s tentative agreement on a proposed reworking of DUI laws sends state legislators home with a symbolic show of bipartisanship before they begin the special session, where they’ll have to resolve many more differences.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers Sunday reached a tentative agreement on a proposed overhaul of DUI laws, a symbolic show of bipartisanship as they prepare for a special session to negotiate starkly different Democratic and Republican budget proposals.
Negotiators plan to privately discuss the budget and some policy issues in the coming days, Gov. Jay Inslee announced in a news conference after the House and Senate formally ended the regular session.
Rank-and-file members will return May 13, Inslee said.
“I’m hopeful that they will get this job done as quickly as humanly possible,” he said.
But he cautioned that “the parties are not miles apart at the moment. They are light years apart.”
The DUI agreement stood as a bright spot on a day when many lawmakers expressed frustration with the looming special session.
Inslee said a group of lawmakers from both chambers and both parties have 95 percent of a deal on the package, with mostly financial issues still to be resolved.
“I’m happy to say we have made great progress in our bipartisan effort to fashion a vigorous and effective fight against drunken driving,” he said. “I think it will be a strong step forward.”
State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, said days of intense meetings in the governor’s office — up until 4 p.m. Sunday — left only minor issues outstanding.
Goodman said the theoretical agreement includes several major elements:
• Anyone arrested on suspicion of drunken driving who has already been convicted of it would have to stay in jail until seeing a judge. Currently, most offenders are released with a court summons.
• Upon release, the driver would have five days to install an ignition-interlock device, which prevents a car from starting if the driver is drunk.
• The prison sentence for a second or third DUI would be increased by several months, although the drivers would be encouraged to opt out of incarceration by getting treatment and participating in an alcohol-monitoring program in which they would not be allowed to drink.
• A fourth DUI would be a felony; currently, it’s not until the fifth.
“It’s a hugely significant package that will really make a difference,” said Goodman.
Both he and Inslee said a key obstacle will be in finding the millions of dollars required to implement the program.
That issue will be among many discussed in the special session.
Unlike in recent years, there’s been little talk of trying to limit the scope of topics when lawmakers come back to town, which suggests they could take the full 30 days allowed by the state constitution.
Inslee said the top priority will be completing an operating budget that closes a large shortfall and plows additional money into education to meet a state Supreme Court mandate.
Close behind, he said, is passing a multibillion-dollar transportation tax package to pay for highway and transit improvements.
But the governor did not stop there. Inslee said he wants the Legislature to pass measures that require health-insurance plans to cover abortions and provide college financial aid to undocumented residents. He also wants universal background checks for firearms purchases.
The governor said Democratic and Republican lawmakers have talked about bringing up other issues as well.
State Sen. Pam Roach called the potential scope of the special session “rather stunning.”
“It’s just like we’re being called into a brand new session,” said Roach, R-Auburn.
Senate GOP Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said his caucus wanted to immediately go into special session to keep the pressure on lawmakers.
The governor’s choice “was not our preference,” said Schoesler, noting, “We don’t get to pick this.”
Inslee argued that budget negotiators need time to work out differences.
The governor and House Democrats want to raise several hundred million dollars in tax revenue by closing tax breaks and extending a business-and-occupation tax.
Republicans say no new tax dollars are needed.