OLYMPIA, WA - A Senate panel is weighing a measure that would make it a felony charge to drive under the influence when the driver has three prior offenses within 10 years.
Of the 45 states that allow felony charges for those accused of driving under the influence, none is more lenient than Washington, and Senator Mike Padden's effort to change that dangerous distinction received strong support during a Senate committee hearing Monday.
The Senate Law & Justice heard testimony on Senate Bill 6090 on Monday, and will likely take a vote on it in the coming days. Under current law, a DUI is a felony only if there are four or more prior offenses within 10 years. Reducing that threshold was an idea that lawmakers considered last year but ultimately decided would be too expensive.
However, Senate Bill 6090 would make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony, rather than the misdemeanor it is now, meaning state prison rather than county jail.
"The 44 other states with felony-DUI laws make the fourth DUI offense, if not the third, a felony," said Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who chairs the Senate panel. "Considering DUI is a completely preventable crime, and anyone who racks up even four offenses in 10 years is clearly a serious danger to others on the road, it's time for our state to adopt a stronger standard."
Last year's comprehensive bill would have lowered the felony-DUI threshold to four convictions; however, that part of Padden's measure was sidelined by concerns about what it would cost the state to care for more prisoners.
The bill comes from a work group created by a measure signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee last year which toughened impaired driving laws in Washington after a spate of fatal crashes.
Padden continues work to clamp down on repeat DUI offenders