June 29, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: Score one for Padden on drunken driving gain


Welcome, Hoopsters, on what may be the hottest weekend yet for Spokane’s biggest event.

Please stay well-hydrated. And we mean hydrated.

Tempting as it might be to reach for a “cold one,” robust enforcement of driving-under-the-influence laws is going to sideline players and spectators who abuse alcohol in the name of refreshment. A few years ago, Hoopfest was second only to Seattle’s Seafair weekend for DUI arrests. Law enforcement has worked vigorously since then to get the problem under control.

Offenders who refuse to take a breathalyzer test this year will be hauled off for blood testing.

Water remains the best antidote to the cocktail of heat and competitiveness among ’ballers and onlookers alike.

There was another victory in the war against drunken drivers this week in Olympia. Spokane Valley Sen. Mike Padden’s bill toughening Washington law passed unanimously in the Senate and House of Representatives. Because of ill-placed tight-fistedness, the measure is not everything he and supporter Gov. Jay Inslee wanted, but it will move the state farther down the road to minimizing the human and property losses inflicted by the intoxicated.

The biggest defect in the new law is its failure to lower the threshold for felony DUI from five arrests within 10 years to four. Legislators were unwilling to set aside more dollars for jailing – at an estimated cost of $16 million during the next budget biennium – as they scraped together more money for schools.

Padden notes Washington’s felony DUI provision is the weakest among the 45 states that have such laws. In Idaho, DUI becomes a felony at three offenses.

A greater deterrent would be less willingness among prosecutors and judges to allow the bargaining of DUI charges down to reckless driving or other lesser offenses. Conversely, the additional DUI courts authorized by the bill will help expand the use of supervision instead of incarceration.

Repeat offenders must be arrested and taken before a judge, and their cars equipped with interlock devices that prevent the impaired from starting their vehicles before they can again get behind the wheel.

Twice-daily testing to assure sobriety will be modeled, but not rolled out statewide. The program has not only reduced DUI in other states, it has lowered the frequency of domestic abuse.

Much of the bill addresses the scoring of alcohol offenses that, for example, include the presence of children, or driving the wrong way on highways.

The legalization of marijuana, and what amount of component THC causes intoxication, poses new questions not entirely resolved with this bill.

Still, this was work well done considering the distracting budget drama. And lawmakers recognize their work is not done. A work group will be established to study other strategies for reducing impaired driving. Good idea.

Hydration, anyone?

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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