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Fingers crossed: Families impacted by DUIs hope tougher law goes the distance

Sen. Mike Padden is trying to toughen Washington state's DUI law again. (AP)

If at first you don’t succeed keep trying. That’s the attitude of one lawmaker who is once again proposing a bill to toughen Washington state’s DUI law.

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Under the current law, a DUI is a felony on the fifth offense. Aside from the District of Columbia and four other states that don’t have felony DUI laws, that’s the most lax in the nation.

Senator Mike Padden’s (R-Spokane Valley) bill would change that.

“It would make a fourth DUI within 10 years a felony,” he explained. “Most folks say, ‘four? It oughta be three or two.'”

In 2013, there was a special task force dealing with impaired driving, according to Padden. One of the top recommendations was to improve the felony DUI law.

“So I’ve sponsored legislation every year since then,” he said.

The proposed law has previously passed the Senate only to be held up in the House.

Padden says most of us know people who have been hurt or killed by drunk drivers, which is a big part of the inspiration for this legislation. During testimony for the same bill Padden introduced last year, supporters stressed the importance of stricter DUI laws. That’s when Dan Schulte, a Seattle resident whose life was changed forever by a drunk driver, shared his story.

“It was my first day back to work and my wife and son and parents were out for a walk in our neighborhood of Wedgewood of Seattle,” he recalled. They were walking right next to a school, crossing the street, when, “a repeat offender struck them and killed my parents and permanently disabled my wife and my son.”

That man was a five-time offender. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, which wasn’t enough for Schulte.

He and others whose lives have been changed to drunk drivers are pushing for passing Padden’s law.

Making a fourth DUI a felony that includes prison time would add roughly 276 felony prosecutions a year at a cost of about $10 million every two years. Some say the cost and overcrowded prisons are the reason it keeps failing in the House.

Padden says you can’t put a price tag on saving lives.

“This year, we’re hoping it will go the distance,” he said. “The Attorney General supports it and the governor says he will sign the legislation.”

A hearing on the measure was scheduled in Olympia Thursday morning, with families who lost loved ones because of drunk drivers, surviving victims, and reps from Mothers Against Drunk Driving expected to speak out in favor of the bill.

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