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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Washington Senate votes again to crack down on drunk drivers

OLYMPIA – Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, argues in favor of his bill making a fourth DUI arrest a felony during debate on Feb. 23, 2017. The Senate passed the bill unanimously that day and the House passed the bill Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

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, freshmen 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 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.

Keeping an eye on things, and people

Spokane may get some help tracking people with a propensity to take other people’s stuff, and keep them from doing that again.

Because of its high rate of auto theft and other property crimes, the Legislature is considering a “pilot program for Spokane that would keep some repeat thieves on a year of community supervision after they get out of prison.

The state eliminated such post-prison supervision for property crimes 10 years ago. Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Tony Hazel urged the House Appropriations Committee to let Spokane give it a try so the state could study whether better supervision would reduce recidivism. Some defense attorneys argue it could set up a constitutional problem because people convicted in Spokane would get different, longer sentences than those convicted elsewhere. Hazel said the state routinely sets up pilot programs without running afoul of equal protection rules.

Strap ‘em in

Washington may soon require children to wear safety belts on school buses.

A proposal that would require all new public school buses purchased after Sept. 1 to have both lap and shoulder belts for all passengers passed the Senate Transportation Committee 12-1 on Thursday. City buses wouldn’t have to have seat belts just because children might be using them to get to or from school.

The bill still has a few more stops before it becomes law.

What’s in a name?

Legislation often is loathe to use proper names, so lawmakers sometimes result to elaborate descriptions instead. That’s the case with House Bill 1063, which sets up a way for a tribe to enter an agreement on fuel taxes with a county.

What tribe in which county? One that is “west of the Cascade mountain range that borders Puget Sound with a population of at least 118,000 but less than 250,000.”

Translation: The Samish tribe in Whatcom County.