OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to lengthen drunken-driving sentences, charge suspects more quickly and even ban third-time offenders from buying alcohol for 10 years.
Inslee called it “the most aggressive, the most effective, the most ambitious” change to state DUI laws ever.
“We are here today because too many families in Washington state are losing their loved ones at the hands of impaired drivers,” he said about the proposal, which was triggered by a pair of Seattle-area fatal crashes officials have linked to alcohol.
But some law-enforcement officials and civil libertarians expressed concern about some of the ideas, saying more work is needed. And at least two other bills are also under consideration.
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Inslee’s proposal would require that those suspected of driving drunk be arrested and charged soon after, and their car be outfitted with an ignition-interlock device before being returned.
Currently, charges can come months later, and there is little enforcement of judicial orders for DUI offenders to install the interlock devices, which prevent cars from starting while the driver is drunk.
The bill would also create a six-month minimum jail sentence for a second DUI conviction and a one-year minimum for the third, although offenders could opt out of jail by participating in a new state program in which they’d have to continuously prove their sobriety by wearing a transdermal bracelet that can detect alcohol consumption.
But perhaps most striking would be the decadelong alcohol-purchasing prohibition on the third offense, which lawmakers said would be the first such law in the country.
Alaska has a similar but less-specific law.
More than 8,000 people were convicted of three or more DUIs in Washington between 1998 and 2012, according to an analysis of data provided by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
The alcohol prohibition would be enforced by creating a special driver’s license and requiring bars, restaurants and liquor stores to card everybody, regardless of age.
State Rep. Sherry Appleton, a Poulsbo Democrat and self-described civil libertarian, said the alcohol ban seems a little too intrusive.
“I think a third-time DUI should be severely punished, but man, 10 years is a long time,” she said, calling instead for more money for treatment. “(Alcoholism) is a disease. We need to treat it that way.”
House Bill 2030 and Senate Bill 5912, identical versions of Inslee’s proposal, are scheduled to be heard in the House Public Safety and Senate Law & Justice committees on Thursday.
The regular legislative session ends April 28, but supporters are hoping to capitalize on outrage from two recent crashes linked to drunken driving to push the bill through.
Two people were killed and two others — including an infant boy — critically injured after being struck while crossing the street March 25 in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. Another woman died after her car was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver April 4 on Highway 520.
“It’s the waning days of the session, but I know we have the political will to get this done,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, one of the architects of Inslee’s bill. “We’re going to get this package passed.”
Disagreements remain, however.
Two main supporters of Inslee’s proposal are also sponsoring other bills aimed at the same issue.
Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden, who chairs the Senate Law & Justice Committee, wants DUI to be a felony on the fourth conviction. It currently is on the fifth.
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor likes that idea but doesn’t think it can pass the Legislature this year because it would lead to more prisoners and potentially cost tens of millions of dollars.
State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, is drafting a bill to pay for Padden’s proposal and for mandatory treatment for DUI offenders by extending an expiring tax on beer.
That idea is likely to face resistance from Republicans.
Even without those add-ons, the proposal could face opposition over costs.
Inslee said his proposal does not yet have a price tag but its cost will not be “insignificant.”
The Legislature is facing a roughly $1.3 billion budget shortfall and trying to increase education funding in response to a state Supreme Court order.
Law-enforcement officials, meanwhile, raised questions about the feasibility of quicker charges on their nearly 38,000 annual DUI arrests — lawmakers are considering requiring charges within 48 hours — and about automatically outfitting the cars of even first-time offenders with interlock devices.
Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said lawmakers should focus on repeat DUI offenders.
“That’s where the real problem is,” he said.
Pierce said he’s confident the issues can be worked out.
Inslee said the same at the news conference, pledging to work with others to get the bill through.
From the side of the room, Frank Blair beamed.
Blair, the father of a 24-year-old woman killed by a drunken driver in 2010, has since fought for tougher laws. He said after Tuesday’s announcement the proposal is a “dream come true.”
“I’m not going to be nitpicky,” he said. “This is a huge piece of legislation.”
Staff reporter Justin Mayo contributed to this report.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal