In the Legislature, sometimes the optics conflict with the message.
So it was on Thursday as the Senate was getting ready to vote – for the umpteenth time – on a proposal to make a motorist’s fourth DUI a felony. Currently, Washington is alone among states for waiting until a fifth DUI, to bring the felony hammer down.
This despite repeated efforts by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, to make what many might say is a relatively minor change that’s in keeping with current sensibilities about being out on the road with less than optimal cognitive skills. Washington is even looking at lowering the legal limit for blood alcohol content from .08 to .05.
The Senate was poised to pass, yet again, Padden’s bill on Wednesday, but first it was taking up a couple of other bills that had the distinction of being the first legislation by new members. Tradition requires a new senator to give colleagues a few gifties from his or her home district after the first bill passes.
That day, freshman Sens. Hans Zeiger and Lisa Wellman passed out swag bags with boozey gifts. Zeiger gave out beer from the Puyallup River Brewing Co., and Wellman an empty growler from Resonate Brewery with a $10 gift certificate to fill it up, and a bottle of ale from Big Block Brewery, ready to drink on the spot. Those were the fourth and fifth alcohol-related items gifted by freshmen to the other members.
Sen. Jeannie Darneille said so many such beverages had been given as gifts that she was giving up her role as the chamber’s leader of the anti-alcohol proliferation posse, because, well, what was the point?
Shortly after these exchanges, Padden rose to introduce his bill and acknowledged that alcoholic gifts were flowing pretty freely but noted “there is a big difference between consuming alcohol and then making the decision to drive a motor vehicle.” For the sixth time in two years, the bill passed the Senate unanimously. Now the question is whether it will get caught up in budget negotiations, as it has in previous years.