With a push from Gov. Gary Locke, the Senate on Monday approved a measure giving police the right to seize and sell drunken drivers’ cars even before the drivers are convicted of the crime.
The measure was among scores approved by the Republican-controlled Senate and House as they rushed to beat this afternoon’s deadline for acting on bills to be sent to the other chamber.
The 28-20 vote on the drunken driving legislation came after backers failed last week to win passage of a similar measure. The reversal followed arm-twisting by Senate backers and heavy lobbying by aides to Locke.
The Democratic governor and senators from both parties contend a law allowing police to impound and declare forfeit the cars of arrested drunken drivers is necessary to save lives on the highways.
They contend the tool is needed to stop drunken drivers who continue to drive even after losing their licenses and serving jail sentences.
“Prosecutors have told us, taking away the car is the real deterrent to drunken driving. It works in other states, and it will work here,” said Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
But foes argued that the measure, SB6431, punishes the spouses and children of drunken drivers by depriving them of necessary transportation.
“Punish the souse, not the spouse,” said Sen. Harold Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake.
But backers managed to gather enough support to pass the bill after amending it to give judges the ability to deny police the right to seize a vehicle if there is evidence the family would suffer financial hardship.
The measure would allow police to impound for 15 days the cars of first-time drunken drivers upon arrest and before conviction. It would allow police to declare forfeit and sell the cars of drunken drivers with a record of drunken driving. The measure leaves it up to individual counties to decide if they want to use the law.
The bill is given only a fair chance of House passage, whose members also are considering their own and Senate measures to boost penalties and take other steps to crack down on drunken drivers.
In other action Monday, the Senate passed and sent to the House:
SB6188, increasing penalties for sex offenders who fail to register with a county sheriff from one year to five years. Legislative analysts estimate that 20 percent of sex offenders fail to register, and nearly half don’t reside where they are registered.
SB6699, giving employers immunity from civil liability when they respond to job reference queries. The bill passed 31-18.
The state’s top business associations said many employers only reveal limited information about workers due to fear of lawsuits. Labor organizations oppose the measure, saying workers face the risk of retaliation, reckless statements or incomplete information about injury or illness.
SB6242, creating an endowment for Washington state universities and community colleges. The schools could tap earnings from the endowment if they can match the grant with private donations.
SB6560, requiring utility regulators to study the effect of deregulating the electricity industry so consumers have a choice of providers. Supporters and foes agree that more information is needed by next year, when the Legislature expects to consider a proposal to introduce competition in the electricity industry.
SB6190, increasing penalties for people who abuse the use of disabled parking permits. The bill passed unanimously and was sent to the House, which has approved a similar measure.
Among measures the House sent the Senate:
HB2496, creating more tools to aid in the recovery of depleted wild salmon runs, including establishment of regional boards to develop salmon recovery plans, creation of a schedule for recovery of various salmon runs, based on a number of criteria, and creation of a new “salmon recovery office” under the governor. Passed 98-0.