OLYMPIA – Lawmakers from all four corners of the Legislature are calling for action on bills to crack down on driving under the influence before the regular legislative session ends on Thursday.

At a news conference Monday morning at the Capitol, lawmakers said the state needs stronger measures to deal with repeat offenders and to improve the effectiveness of existing laws. Hanging in the balance as the House and Senate negotiate a final budget deal are bills that would expand felony prosecutions for repeat offenses, require swifter hearings on license suspensions and allow courts to order participation in 24/7 sobriety programs.

Participating in Monday’s news conference were Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, and Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick. They were joined by representatives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and families of DUI victims.

“For the last several years we have been seeking ways to strengthen our DUI laws,” Padden said. “These laws are an important element of the solution. Time and again, in every community of the state, we see senseless tragedies caused by repeat offenders. What these measures will cost to enforce is more than outweighed by the tragedies they will prevent on our roads and highways.”

Senate Bill 5105, sponsored by Padden, would allow the 4th DUI to be prosecuted as a felony. Currently a felony can be charged only on the fifth offense, giving Washington the highest threshold nationally among the 46 states allowing felony DUI prosecutions and prison time. An estimated 276 additional cases would be tried as felonies annually, at a cost of roughly $10 million every two years when fully implemented. The bill has been approved unanimously four times by the Senate but has not gotten a vote in the House.

“Unfortunately, in the 46th district, we are all too familiar with the terrible tragedies brought upon communities and families by drunk driving incidents,” Frockt said. “When I tell people it takes five DUIs before an individual is charged with a felony count in Washington, they are appalled and can’t understand how that could be the law.  This legislation takes us at least a bit closer to the national average for this issue and I think it is a very necessary first step. I believe it will prevent some number of tragic incidents in the future.”

Said Klippert, “We have an obligation to strengthen the DUI laws in Washington because we have a legal and moral duty to victims, families, and society at large to ensure no one else has to endure such pain and suffering. I remain hopeful we can continue our bipartisan work on DUI-related bills and pass them on to the governor for his signature.”

MADD board member Joan Davis said, As the mother of a daughter killed by a drunk driver I strongly support Senate Bill 5105. Her killer has become a repeat offender who could very well commit vehicular homicide again.  Stronger laws, larger fines and increased prison time can save innocent lives and that’s the bottom line.”

Also awaiting final approval is House Bill 2700, sponsored by Goodman, which makes a number of changes to existing laws. They include a speedier administrative license-suspension process, requiring hearings to be held by the Department of Licensing within 30 days of an arrest instead of the current 60 days. A 24/7 Sobriety Program, tried on a pilot basis, would become a permanent feature of state law, allowing judges to order repeat offenders to submit to regular testing of blood, breath, urine or other bodily substances. The state would face a one-time cost of $387,000. The bill awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Another piece of DUI legislation cleared the House and Senate last week and has been delivered to the governor for his signature. HB 2280, sponsored by Klippert, upgrades the felony DUI penalty, when charged on the 5th offense, from a class C felony to class B. That means a conviction on a 5th offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $20,000, or both.