OLYMPIA – As a Senate committee approved tougher laws against impaired drivers Tuesday, some senators wondered aloud if the Legislature isn’t at least partially responsible for putting more drunks on the road by expanding the places where alcohol is consumed.
Less than an hour after the Senate Law and Justice Committee gave unanimous approval to a proposal that would require more and quicker jail time for drivers convicted of alcohol or drug impairment, Gov. Jay Inslee signed four bills the Legislature recently passed that add new places from which a person might be driving after legally consuming alcohol. . .
. . . Despite concerns by some senators that the proposals to toughen drunk driving laws don’t go far enough, or provide money to cities and counties for the higher costs of extra prosecutions for driving under the influence, all committee members gave Senate Bill 5912 at least tentative support.
The bill makes a fourth conviction for driving under the influence a felony, down from five convictions under the current law. It sets up mandatory jail time or treatment programs for earlier offenses, would allow judges to order a drunk driver to abstain from alcohol and submit to mandatory daily testing and allow new devices to be used to ensure repeat drunk drivers abstain from alcohol if a judge orders it.
Just who was responsible for some of the drunks on the road was part of the committee debate.
“We have had a steady drumbeat of more and more and more access to alcohol,” Sen. Jeannie Darnielle, D-Tacoma, said. “We have a complete disconnect.”
The voters should accept some of the blame, said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. They opened up sales of distilled spirits in supermarkets through a 2011 initiative, and legalized marijuana consumption by adults in 2012. Stores like Costco now have mountains of liquor on display in their aisles, she said.
The state should follow a recent recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board and lower the legal limit for blood alcohol content of drivers to .05 percent, down from the current .08 percent, Roach said. A public official convicted of a drunk driving offense should be subjected to a recall, she added. Neither provision is part of the current bill.
Two laws signed Tuesday will allow for alcohol to be sold to adults in movie theaters. Another will allow for tasting of distilled spirits in stores and a fourth allows sampling of local winery and microbrewery products at farmer’s markets.
Inslee, who has listed tougher laws against drunk driving as one of his top priorities for the 30-day special session and says he has an “intense passion” for cracking down on drunk driving, said he didn’t see a disconnect. The laws are designed to allow “moderate use,” Inslee said, quoting the ancient Greeks who advised all things in moderation.
Funding for the drunk driving crackdown is uncertain. Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, tried unsuccessfully to attach amendments that would pay for increased prosecutions and incarcerations by extending the temporary tax on beer that was imposed in 2010 and is due to expire on June 30. Kline’s amendment failed, and Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said taxes to pay for the bill is something the Ways and Means Committee will address.
Finding a way to pay for tougher drunk driving laws is part of negotiations on the state’s 2013-15 operating budget, Inslee said. A fiscal analysis of the cost of all the changes isn’t finished yet.
“One way or another, we’re going to find adequate funding,” he said.