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December 4, 2013 at 10:48 AM
A new report suggests that Washington state should fight drunken driving by increasing penalties and establishing random sobriety checkpoints.
But another idea floated after a high-profile tragedy last spring, banning repeat DUI offenders from buying alcohol, was nearly universally dismissed.
The 2013 Washington Impaired Driving Work Group delivered the 152-page report Monday. The 33-member group, created by the Legislature this year, was made up of lawmakers, lawyers, police officers, state-agency officials, advocates, victims’ families, treatment providers, ignition-interlock manufacturers and experts.
The group considered 11 specific ideas for reducing DUIs, ranking them according to overall support and where they should fall on the state’s priority list (the most supported ideas were not necessarily seen as top priorities).
The top three priorities, according to the report, all related to penalties: The group wanted to increase penalties for drivers who refuse to take a breath or blood test (top priority; supported by 79 percent of group members), strengthen mandatory minimum prison sentences and fines for repeat offenders (second priority, 72 percent) and make DUI a felony before the fifth offense, as it is now (third priority, 85 percent).
The report noted that Washington is the only state where a DUI becomes a felony on the fifth offense.
It is a felony on the second offense in four states, the third offense in 21 states and the fourth offense in 18 states. Six states don’t have felony DUIs.
Lawmakers this year considered making DUI a felony sooner, but did not take action, in part, because the move was seen as too expensive.
Making the change would “heighten the awareness and communicate the seriousness of DUI,” said group member Kim Sauer, of the state Liquor Control Board, in the report.
The most surprising aspect of the report may have been the high level of support for sobriety checkpoints, which exist in 38 states but are seen as violating the state constitution.
The checkpoints, which would stop drivers even if they have done nothing wrong, were ranked as the fourth priority and supported by 82 percent of members.
“I think the research has shown that this should be a priority,” said member Dan Schulte, a group member whose parents were killed and whose wife and infant son were critically injured when they were struck by a drunken driver in Northeast Seattle in the spring.
Not everyone in the group agreed.
“I like them,” Tom McBride, of the state association of prosecutors, commented in the report, ”but do not see how they survive state constitutional privacy protections.”
The most supported of the 11 ideas, promoting and monitoring the use of alcohol-sensing ignition interlocks, was endorsed by 97 percent of group members. But it was ranked as only the 10th priority.
That put it just ahead of the least-supported policy on the list, the alcohol bans for repeat offenders. That idea got just 18 percent support.
Group member Brad Fralick, of the interlock manufacturer Consumer Safety Technology, was blunt in the report: “This is laughable,” he said. “Even if you could limit purchasing this does nothing to stop the consumption or driving after consuming.”
June 27, 2013 at 7:28 PM
The man whose family was devastated by a crash that propelled state lawmakers to consider tightening state DUI laws says he doesn’t think their final product does enough to address the problem.
Dan Schulte, whose parents were killed and wife and infant son critically injured March 25 when a truck slammed into them as they crossed a North Seattle street, said he has “mixed feelings” about Senate Bill 5912.
“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.”
The bill, which would require faster charges and brief initial jail time for repeat DUI offenders, among other provisions, won unanimous approval in the state House on Thursday, one day after it passed the state Senate.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign it soon.
In announcing the bill’s final version, lawmakers said they simply did not have the money for the more ambitious ideas they proposed in the aftermath of the North Seattle crash — including requiring faster charges for all offenders, increasing minimum jail sentences and making DUI a felony on the fourth conviction, instead of the fifth.
Ultimately, the lawmakers said, passing something was better than nothing.
“It’s a rare opportunity when we can press the green button and literally save lives,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman, a Kirkland Democrat and architect of the bill, who mentioned recent tragedies in his floor speech.
Goodman and others said they hope to take up the issue again soon.
Schulte, in his statement, urged them to do just that.
“Until the next session, my family will be praying that our story and my voice alone will discourage some people from driving while intoxicated, but I know it is not enough,” he wrote. “We need your help, too.”
Specifically, Schulte said, “it’s not clear why any DUI offense is less than a felony.”
His wife, Karina Ulriksen-Schulte, and son, Elias, are both recovering, according to the family. The man who allegedly drunkenly ran them down, Mark Mullan, is awaiting trial.
June 26, 2013 at 5:43 PM
The state Senate unanimously approved a set of changes to drunken driving laws Wednesday afternoon, but not before amendments stripped out two of the original proposal’s toughest provisions.
The provisions, which would have increased mandatory minimum jail sentences and made DUI a felony on the 4th time, instead of the 5th, were removed after negotiators decided they were too expensive, officials said.
Sponsor Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said Senate Bill 5912 nonetheless would improve public safety.
“There are a lot of reasons for this bill,” said Padden, the chairman of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, citing several specific crashes, including one in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood in March that started the renewed push for tougher laws.
The bill, the subject of long negotiations between lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee, would require that those with a previous DUI conviction who are arrested again on suspicion of DUI be arrested and charged within 48 hours.
It would also establish a pilot program, in three counties and two cities, in which some DUI offenders would be electronically monitored 24 hours a day to make sure they do not drink any alcohol.
In addition, the bill would expand DUI courts, restrict deferred sentencing and increase supervision of drunken-driving felons.
Finally, the bill would establish a working group to study further changes.
Despite the unanimous vote, several lawmakers expressed frustration at the limited nature of the amended bill.
“The bill that’s before us today, quite frankly, had much more in it,” said state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
The original version was called the “most aggressive” overhaul of DUI laws in state history by Inslee when he and a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled it in April.
In addition to the increases in mandatory minimums and revised definition of felony DUI, the original version would have created a 10-year alcohol ban for those convicted of three DUIs.
An architect of the House version of the DUI bill, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, has indicated that the House will also take up the scaled-back version of the bill.
May 14, 2013 at 2:45 PM
OLYMPIA — A stiffening of state DUI laws championed by Gov. Jay Inslee and a bipartisan group of lawmakers cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday, moving out of the Senate Law & Justice Committee unanimously.
Among other items, Senate Bill 5912 would add 10 days in jail to all minimum DUI sentences, make drunken driving a felony on the fourth conviction (it currently is on the fifth) and make the installation of an ignition interlock device a requirement for repeat DUI offenders to be released from jail.
The bill also would pilot a 24/7 alcohol-monitoring program as an alternative to prison, restrict deferred sentencing in drunken driving cases and expand DUI courts.
Those items all were agreed upon in recent negotiations between Inslee and the leaders of the Senate and House committees with jurisdiction over DUI issues. But the question of how to pay for them remains a key sticking point.
On Tuesday, the unanimous committee vote belied concerns from Democrats that the proposal doesn’t give enough money to local governments to implement the changes or devote enough to treatment.
Before the vote, senators made clear they were voting on the policy, not the financials of the plan.
The Senate version of the bill will next go to the budget committee that will decide if the state can afford the changes.
The House Public Safety Committee is expected to vote on a similar proposal soon.
Despite the remaining hurdles, Inslee expressed optimism about the bill in an afternoon news conference.
“I’m very happy about this,” he said. “I think this bodes well for us getting this done this special session.”
April 24, 2013 at 7:18 PM
How can Washington state reduce drunken driving?
The Legislature is weighing that question now in the aftermath of two high-profile crashes that killed three people and injured two others.
On Thursday at noon, Seattle Times readers are invited to chat online with a state lawmaker and a DUI defense attorney about various proposals to crack down on drunken driving, from banning DUI offenders from buying alcohol to establishing random sobriety checkpoints.
Here is more information about the participants:
Brad Klippert is the ranking Republican on the state House Public Safety Committee, which is considering a proposal to overhaul Washington’s drunken-driving laws. As a ranking member, Klippert is one of five lawmakers who have been working with Gov. Jay Inslee on the proposal. Klippert represents the 8th District, which includes Kennewick, Richland and West Richland. He has taught at several levels, is a helicopter pilot with the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and is a 19-year law enforcement officer currently working for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.Here is more information about the participants:
Patricia Fulton is a Seattle criminal defense lawyer with the Law Offices of Geoffrey Burg, LCC and a member of Washington state’s Impaired Driving Working Group, which has worked to overhaul DUI laws since its formation in 2007. Fulton has worked in criminal defense for 14 years; about half of her clients are accused of drunken driving. She serves as co-chair of the legislative committees of the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Washington Defenders Association.
Moderator Brian M. Rosenthal is a staff reporter in The Seattle Times Olympia bureau.
April 24, 2013 at 10:20 AM
OLYMPIA — The state House Public Safety Committee delayed a scheduled Wednesday vote on a scaled-back proposal to overhaul Washington’s drunken driving laws, potentially signaling trouble for a bill that was being fast-tracked.
The proposal, crafted after two fatal Seattle crashes that authorities have tied to alcohol, is a major priority of Gov. Jay Inslee and many lawmakers. But officials from law enforcement groups and local governments have questioned its feasibility and cost in recent days.
Committee chairman Roger Goodman, one of the proposal’s most ardent supporters, said he still hopes to pass it this year — despite there being just five days left in the regular legislative session.
For now, Goodman said, “it does feel like we’re rushing this too much.”
“We’re not going to let up,” said Goodman, D-Kirkland. “We’re just not going to be voting this morning.”
Before that announcement, committee members were preparing to vote on the bill, a scaled-back version of a proposal introduced to much fanfare last week.
The original version would have required that all people stopped on suspicion of drunken driving be arrested, charged quickly and their cars outfitted with an ignition interlock device before they left the impound lot.
The new version would apply that to those who have already been convicted of a DUI, but not to first-time offenders. And the interlock device would not be installed at the impound lot, but at a separate location days later.
The new version would increase jail sentences, but not by as much as the original.
And it would not prohibit those convicted of a third DUI from purchasing alcohol for 10 years.
Goodman acknowledged that provision appeared unworkable.
The Senate Law & Justice Committee, which is considering a similar DUI proposal, has scheduled a Thursday morning meeting but has not yet announced its agenda.
April 18, 2013 at 1:46 PM
OLYMPIA — Lobbyists for police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and local governments used four hours of back-to-back hearings Thursday to question the feasibility of a bipartisan proposal to overhaul Washington state’s drunken driving laws.
The fast-tracked proposal, unveiled Tuesday at a news conference with Gov. Jay Inslee, would require charges be filed faster, lengthen jail sentences, prohibit third-time DUI offenders from buying alcohol for 10 years and create a new state program in which some DUI offenders could avoid jail by proving their sobriety at all times.
But the provision they targeted most Thursday would require that all cars impounded during DUI arrests be automatically outfitted with ignition interlock devices, which prevent the car from starting if the driver is drunk.
Currently, drivers are required to install interlock devices if they’re convicted, but there’s little judicial oversight.
Civil libertarians called the impound installation unconstitutional because the driver hasn’t yet been convicted. Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs questioned its effectiveness.
And Tom McBride of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys called it “unworkable,” citing a lack of resources.
“I’m so worried that what you’re going to do is pass some changes in the law, declare victory, and I’m going to be stuck still not able to move some cases through the system,” he said.
James McMahan, representing local county officials, said preliminary estimates indicate the bill could cost up to $45 million for counties, and more for cities. If there’s no state funding, that’ll come out of enforcement of other crimes, said Candice Bock, who represents local city officials.
An official fiscal analysis of the bill has not yet been finished.
Bock, McMahan, McBride and Pierce urged lawmakers to provide local jurisdictions with more resources and to focus on repeat offenders, not first-time drunken drivers.
Also at the hearing, a lobbyist for defense attorneys said the 10-year ban on alcohol purchasing would be difficult to enforce and the new sobriety program would not be accessible to poor defendants.
The lobbyist, Patricia Fulton, called the proposal “hastily drafted.”
State Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, one of the proposal’s architects, signaled at the end of the hearings that lawmakers may revise the requirements about interlock installation to cover arrested drivers who already have a DUI conviction, not first-time offenders.
“We don’t want to be over broad and impractical in requiring the ignition interlock in every single arrest, so we want to focus on repeat offenders,” he said.
That would mean automatic interlock installation for about 4,500 state drivers every year, not 38,000, officials said.
“We’re not going to jam this bill through,” Goodman added. “We’re going to have a lot more discussion.”
The bill did get some support at the hearings, including from Shelly Baldwin of the Washington State Traffic Commission, who said that if everybody in the state who is supposed to have an interlock device on their car actually did, DUI recidivism would decline 43 percent.
Goodman said he is scheduling a meeting of his Impaired Driving Working Group for next Tuesday to discuss the proposals.
April 16, 2013 at 12:55 PM
OLYMPIA — After days of discussions, Gov. Jay Inslee and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers said Tuesday they are nearing agreement on a far-ranging plan to overhaul Washington state’s drunken driving laws.
The lawmakers said they are working on a compromise bill to put a renewed emphasis on preventing DUI offenders from consuming alcohol. But they cautioned the details are not finalized and at least two other bills are under consideration.
The competing plans come three weeks after a fatal collision in Seattle spurred lawmakers to focus on DUI laws.
The draft of the main proposal would stiffen sentences for drunken driving convictions, establishing a six-month minimum sentence for the second conviction and one-year minimum for the third. But it would let offenders opt out of jail by participating in a new state program in which they’d have to prove they’re sober at all times.
That program, which would be run out of the state Attorney General’s Office, is modeled on a successful effort in South Dakota.
The draft bill would also prohibit those convicted of a third DUI from buying or being served alcohol for 10 years. To accomplish that, lawmakers would create a special driver’s license and require everybody to be carded — not just those who appear young.
Only Alaska has a law like that, said state House Public Safety Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland. New Mexico is considering something similiar, he said.
The bill would also require cars impounded during DUI arrests be outfitted with ignition interlock devices. Currently, the devices are required for DUI offenders, but the offenders must get it installed themselves.
Finally, the bill would expand DUI courts and reduce deferred sentencing for DUI charges.
“It’s a comprehensive approach,” Goodman said.
The bill would take effect in 2015.
The proposal, introduced as House Bill 2030 and Senate Bill 5912, will be discussed at a 2 p.m. news conference Tuesday. It is also scheduled to be heard during a joint hearing of the House Public Safety and Senate Law & Justice committees Thursday.
The chairman of the Senate committee, Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden, said his panel will also hear a second proposal, Senate Bill 5902, that would make drunken driving a felony on the fourth offense.
It’s currently a felony on the fifth offense.
Goodman said he likes Padden’s proposal but doesn’t know if the state can afford to house the new prisoners it would bring.
State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he is preparing a bill of his own that would pay for Padden’s proposal while also funding mandatory alcoholism treatment for DUI offenders and increased enforcement of ignition interlock device installation.
Kline says his proposal would extend the expiring beer tax and dedicate the money solely to DUI response.
“If this is important, let’s put our money where our mouth is,” he said.
April 9, 2013 at 1:26 PM
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee plans to meet with lawmakers Tuesday afternoon to discuss strengthening Washington state’s drunken-driving laws in the aftermath of recent tragedies, according to several invitees.
The 1 p.m. meeting comes hours after the state’s Impaired Driving Working Group gathered in the Capitol to brainstorm a variety of ideas, from making DUI a felony on the third offense — it currently is on the fifth — to requiring cars impounded during DUI arrests automatically be outfitted with ignition interlock devices.
Some were also considering proposals like establishing random sobriety checkpoints and lifetime driving bans after a certain number of DUI convictions.
The biggest obstacle to many of the ideas is budgetary.
Making DUI a felony on the third offense, for example, would likely force the state to build a new prison at the cost of some $200 million, according to state House Public Safety Committee Chairman Roger Goodman.
But at the heated Capitol meeting, the nearly 50 attendees were in no mood to talk financials.
“What about people’s lives?” asked Karen Minahan, a 65-year-old Redmond woman lost her right leg to a drunken driver in 1997. “There are things that are bigger than money.”
Goodman, who chairs the working group, said he is committed to reducing drunken driving. But it has to be done in a realistic way, he said.
“We have to reduce the problem,” Goodman told the attendees. “We can’t fantasize about eliminating the problem.”
The Senate Law & Justice Committee has scheduled a Thursday morning hearing on the “the driving under the influence act of 2013.”
Lawmakers haven’t yet figured out what that bill will contain, Goodman said. But much may be determined this afternoon, he said.
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