Spin Control

Tougher sentencing on DUI hinges on funding

OLYMPIA – Drunk drivers could face prison on their fourth conviction – one less than Washington law currently allows – if the Legislature can find a way to pay for the extra costs for that time in state prisons and county jails. One possible source of money: some of the taxes the state currently collects on alcohol, and some of what it expects to collect for legal marijuana.

With victims recounting stories of devastated families and law enforcement officials asking for tougher laws, a Senate panel was solidly behind a bill that drivers should face a felony charge for they are arrested a fourth time in 10 years for driving drunk or under the influence of marijuana or other drugs.

“Lives will be saved and hearts won’t be broken forever,” Linda Thompson of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council told the Senate Law and Justice Committee Monday.

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Impaired drivers kill more people than guns, said Amy Freedheim, King County’s DUI prosecutor, who added that one recent repeat offender told officers his license has been suspended for years but he won’t stop driving, likening it to sex as “something people just have to do.”

Washington is also about to allow people to sell another “impairing drug”, recreational marijuana, which when combined with alcohol could have a synergistic effect on drivers, Freedheim said.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he suspected all members of the committee would support SB 6090, but that’s only part of the battle.

“There’s no argument on the policy. We’re going to have to pay for it,” said Kline, who asked most supporters for suggestions on covering the costs.

“Talk about saving lives, first, not just saving money,” said Dan Schulte, a Seattle resident whose parents were killed and wife and infant son were severely injured in accident with a repeat drunk driver.

Last year, a major push to toughen DUI laws supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, and Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the committee’s chairman, foundered on the question of cost when a proposal moved on to the Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of taxing and spending. Kline said the state could consider taxes on alcohol and marijuana. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, suggested all members of the committee write a letter calling for funds from taxes on those substance be dedicated to increased incarcerations because of their connection to impaired driving.

Padden said the bill has strong support and he expects to give the Law and Justice Committee a chance to pass it next week. 

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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