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Proposal to crack down on repeat DUI offenders in jeopardy

(Jeffrey Smith, Flickr Creative Commons)

Earlier this month, a man appeared in Seattle Municipal Court to face his eight DUI. Also this month The Seattle Times reports a 70-year-old man described by prosecutors as “incredibly dangerous” was charged with his 17th DUI in King County. In January, a man was sentenced to more than 20 years for the wrong-way DUI crash that killed an Oregon woman in Snohomish County. It was his seventh DUI-related conviction.

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They’re repeat DUI offenders — a small percentage of those arrested for driving under the influence in our state — but a percentage that needs to be held accountable, according to Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman, chair of the House Public Safety Committee.

Goodman has a wide-ranging bill that would help with that accountability, but the part of it that targets that small percentage of habitual drunk drivers is in jeopardy because of funding concerns.

The bill would extend what is known as the “lookback” and make the fourth DUI in 15 years a felony, rather than the current 10 years. Felonies come with mandatory prison time which costs more money. That’s the snag.

“The question there is whether we have the political will to pay for it,” Goodman explained.

“The House and the Senate are now trying to put the budget together,” Goodman added. “If we were to expand this lookback period so you could have four DUIs in a 15-year period rather than a 10-year period — which means more people would become felons — that costs $8 million dollars because we’re sending more people to prison. So the question is are we willing to come up with that $8 million dollars, and that’ll be settled in the budget negotiations.”

Asked whether that part of the bill was in jeopardy, Goodman said, “It is.”

“If we don’t come up with the funding for prison, then this lookback period it will not be extended. It’ll stay at the 10 years and won’t go to 15 years,” Goodman added.

Goodman, who is not on the budget committee, says there is contention on the issue.

“There’s some disagreement over whether or not we want to pay for prison or whether we want to use that $8 million dollars to pay for something else” Goodman said.

Goodman points out that 80 percent of deaths and injuries related to DUIs involve first time offenders, while repeat drunk drivers are responsible for just 20 percent of deaths and injuries. Still, he agrees that is too many and that those habitual drunk drivers must be held accountable.

Goodman strongly believes the research shows the use of ignition interlock devices are the best way to deal with most DUI offenders, but admits with some of these habitual drunk drivers that hasn’t always worked because the offender ends up getting behind the wheel of a vehicle without the device — as was the case in all three of the above cases.

That’s a problem.

“There are people who flout the law and they don’t get the breathalyzer in the car and they do this over and over again,” Goodman said. “For them, there’s still this sense of justice that we want to achieve and that means that people who do this over and over again really need to be held accountable in a more serious way. That means prison, that means bigger monetary penalties, and it all means supervision after you get out of prison.”

“We need to send a message to the public that this is violating our norms and shouldn’t be tolerated,” Goodman added.

Budget leaders issued a statement Thursday saying they had reached a tentative deal on the operating budget, but offered no specifics and said work would continue. That will likely be the case throughout the weekend with Sunday being the last day of the regular session.

It remains to be seen whether the $8 million dollars necessary to extend the lookback will make it into the budget. If not, that part of the bill will die.

House and Senate budget writers did not return requests for comment on the status of the DUI lookback issue, which is not uncommon as they continue to work on a deal.

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