Serving Franklin County, WA

Padden bill on DUI penalties passes Senate, again

OLYMPIA - With traffic deaths in Washington reaching their highest point in more than 30 years, the Senate again approved an anti-impaired driving bill sponsored by 4th District Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

It is the fourth straight year the Senate has passed such a measure in Olympia.

Senate Bill 5032, which was passed 43-5, would expand the period for reviewing prior convictions of impaired driving to 15 years, from the 10 years now in state law, when determining whether a new offense of impaired driving is charged as a felony.

The proposal would increase the penalty from a gross misdemeanor to a felony offense for any person who has three or more prior DUI offenses within that "look-back" period.

"Washington has seen a significant increase in traffic deaths over the past few years. Drunk driving and drug-impaired driving, especially by repeat offenders, are two leading causes," Padden said. "This bill tries to remove the most dangerous drivers from our roads and highways and into treatment or being accountable by the state criminal justice system."

During his floor speech in support of the bill, Padden said it tries to address a crisis on Washington roads and highways.

"So many repeat impaired offenders are the ones who have vehicular homicides, vehicular assaults, and they are causing havoc on our roadways for innocent victims," Padden told senators. "The numbers have gone up so much, especially on the alcohol/drug combination impaired driving. In 2023, there were over 800 deaths on Washington roadways.

"This bill has a good balance – strong on treatment but also strong on accountability," added Padden.

Before the Senate approved Senate Bill 5032, Padden successfully added a floor amendment that

permits a person who participates in a deferred prosecution for a first gross misdemeanor driving under the influence or physical control of a vehicle under the influence charge to participate in a second deferred prosecution on a person's next DUI under very strict sideboards.

"In 2021, the Senate approves the bill – and the House lets it die. In 2022, and again this past year, the Senate approves the bill – and the House lets it die. We've seen this movie enough, and it's doing nothing to make Washington safer."

Padden, the Republican leader on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said many traffic fatalities in the state involve drivers who have had as many as eight DUI offenses, but the current 10-year look-back period is not long enough to allow the state to impose stronger punishment against such offenders.

"Repeat impaired-driving offenders commit most of the vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults in Washington. This bill tries to prevent those horrible and senseless crimes," said Padden, a former Spokane County district court judge. Senate Bill 5032 would give offenders a chance to undergo a highly structured treatment program, he added.

According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, there were 740 traffic deaths in the state in 2022 (the highest in over 30 years), including 389 fatalities involving drug- or alcohol-impaired driving. There were 674 traffic deaths in 2021, including 345 fatalities involving impaired driving. In 2020, Washington had 574 traffic fatalities, including 282 involving impaired driving.


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