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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 4, 2014 at 6:52 PM

DUI policy day in Olympia: Lawmakers hear tweaks only

Olympia’s unofficial “DUI policy day” on Tuesday featured just five tweaks to drunken-driving laws, a package described even by supporters as modest.

House Bills 2344, 2503, 2506, 2507 and 2728, heard in the state House Judiciary Committee, would mostly clarify or reinforce some unclear parts of current law and stiffen penalties for a handful of the worst repeat DUI offenders.

Committee chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said several other ideas had been deemed too expensive. Another, to establish random sobriety checkpoints, never got the momentum that had been expected.

The state Senate is considering a more substantive measure — to make drunken driving a felony on the fourth time it is committed, instead of the fifth — but supporters acknowledge it is likely too expensive to be approved  in this year’s short legislative session.

The most contested of the proposals moving in the House, 2344, would require the state Department of Licensing to remind people who have been convicted of a DUI they must install an ignition interlock device that makes them blow into a Breathalyzer before starting their car. Buying a new car to get around the requirement would be a gross misdemeanor.

The sponsor, Issaquah Republican Chad Magendanz, said his bill could prevent accidents by making it “absolutely clear” that those people can’t circumvent the requirement with a new vehicle.

But Seattle defense attorney Patricia Fulton called the proposal “incredibly vague” and argued its $6 million cost outweighed any benefits. That cost would come mostly from printing and mailing the reminders, Goodman said.

Goodman said the cost “might put the bill in jeopardy.”

 The hearings on the other bills were less heated. Several featured only testimony from state Rep. Brad Klippert, a Kennewick Republican who sponsored three of them, and King County prosecutor Amy Freidheim.

Freidheim took up so much of Tuesday’s testimony that Goodman at one point exclaimed, “this is the Amy Freidheim show.”

House Bill 2506 would mandate that once DUI  becomes a felony, it is Class B, rather than class C. That distinction would not change the sentencing range but would allow for more post-prison supervision for a small number of people with a long enough record that they spend all of their sentence behind bars.

How many fit in that category? In King County, only about a half dozen over the past seven years, Freidheim said.

Another proposal, House Bill 2507, could affect an even smaller number — people who have committed at least two vehicular homicides. The bill would increase the penalty for those rare cases by eight years for every prior incident.

The other two bills largely dealt with technical fixes, including allowing police to conduct blood-alcohol tests without a warrant if drivers of vehicles or boats consent to the test.

In a scene now routine in DUI-related hearings in Olympia, the hearings also featured testimony from marijuana activists who disagree with the provision of Initiative 502 that makes it a crime to drive with five nanograms of THC in the blood.

Lots of law-abiding medical marijuana users have that much in their bloodstream often, activist Arthur West said.

Comments | More in State Legislature | Topics: Amy Freidheim, Brad Klippert, Chad Magendanz


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