Last week, Sen. Mike Padden’s drive to strengthen state laws against driving under the influence reached its final milestone for the year.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the comprehensive anti-DUI bill Padden had introduced – legislation that had won unanimous support from the House of Representatives three weeks ago, on the heels of a unanimous vote in the state Senate.
“While there is much more work to do if we want fewer impaired drivers on our roads, this is a big step forward, especially when it comes to discouraging repeat DUI offenses,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley.
Padden, a former judge who handled countless DUI cases during a dozen years on the Spokane County district court bench, acknowledged the hard work put in by the Senate, House and governor’s office to get the bill in front of Inslee, who signed it at the Washington State Patrol’s Tacoma-area district office. However, he was quick to point out that it took two tragedies to pave the way for the resounding approval of Senate Bill 5912.
“There is much the Legislature can do to discourage people from driving under the influence –a crime that is completely preventable – yet those who propose strong anti-DUI legislation almost always find themselves in an uphill battle,” said Padden, who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “I am fully aware that the passage of this bill, this year, has little to do with me and everything to do with the five people who forced the Legislature to finally confront the issues surrounding repeat DUI offenders: Dennis and Judy Schulte, their daughter-in-law Karina and grandson Elias, and Morgan Williams.
“It is because of them that we have this new law, which hopefully will spare other families from the suffering that so often results from alcohol abuse and DUI,” Padden added.
The Schultes died on a Seattle street March 25, struck by the same pickup truck that critically injured their daughter-in-law and her 10-day old son; Williams died April 5 from injuries sustained when a wrong-way driver struck her car on State Route 520 in Seattle. In both cases the drivers are accused of having been under the influence; what grabbed lawmakers’ attention was that both had recent DUI arrests, yet because their cases had not gone to trial the drivers had not been required to have alcohol-sensing ignition-interlock devices installed on their vehicles.
The law created by Padden’s measure will have officers automatically arrest people suspected of a second or more DUI within a 10-year period; those arrested will be required to have ignition-interlock devices installed as a condition of being released from custody. Also, drivers convicted of DUI while driving the wrong way or while children are passengers will face stiffer penalties.
Padden noted the law will let up to three counties and two cities test a tool already proven successful in South Dakota: a 24/7 sobriety program that can allow offenders to avoid electronic home monitoring by requiring regular testing for alcohol consumption.
“Ignition-interlock devices can keep a drunk person from driving; the 24/7 program can help people stay sober. Both will make for safer roads, but we all know the problems associated with alcohol abuse go beyond driving. I’m looking forward to seeing what the 24/7 sobriety program can accomplish in that broader sense,” said Padden.
The legislation will also pay for an additional Spokane County prosecutor for DUI-related crimes.
Washington law doesn’t treat a DUI as a felony – meaning prison rather than jail – until a person racks up five or more offenses within 10 years. All other western states, from Alaska to Arizona, clamp down hard on the third offense, Padden noted.
An earlier version of SB 5912 would have made the fourth DUI offense a felony in Washington; Padden plans to continue pursuing that stronger standard in 2014.