House committee takes swipe at drunk driving

Lawmakers still need to figure out the costs of enacting the tougher measures sought by Gov. Jay Inslee.
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Gov. Jay Inslee

Lawmakers still need to figure out the costs of enacting the tougher measures sought by Gov. Jay Inslee.

A tweaked version of Gov. Jay Inslee's bill to toughen Washington driving-while-impaired laws passed the Washington House's Public Safety Committee Wednesday on a bipartisan 10-to-1 vote.

If the Legislature passes this bill Washington's driving-while-impaired laws will be among the toughest in the nation, said the bill's sponsor Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland and chairman of the public safety committee.

"We're not going to prevent every tragedy, But this bill will be a major step forward," Goodman said.

The bill, which will cover both alcohol- and marijuana-related cases, now goes to the House Appropriations Committee. The costs of implementing the legislation have yet to be calculated, but the committee will tackle that issue and figure out how to pay for the extra costs. If the bill goes to the full House, two-thirds approval is needed because the legislation also covers marijuana, which will change aspects of last November's initiative that Washington's voters passed to legalize recreational marijuana. Any change in an initiative requires a two-thirds majority for two years after the public vote.

Inslee has made this legislation one of his top three priorities in the special session, along with reaching compromises on the state's operating budget and a transportation revenue package. Several days ago, Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the drunk driving bill will not be used as a horse-trading measure in the negotiations over the budgets and other stalled bills. A similar bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is currently in the Senate's Ways & Means Committee.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, cast Tuesday's sole negative vote in the House committee. Appleton's qualms include the bill having no cost estimates or funding sources attached to it, a lack of evidence that longer sentences deter driving while impaired and a shortage of businesses able to install ignition-interlock devices on vehicles. The House bill gives drivers five days after an arrest or arraignment for a second or subsequent offense to get the devices installed; Appleton believes 10 days is more reasonable.

Ignition-interlock devices are designed to stop impaired drivers from starting a vehicle.

The bill bumps the fourth driving-while-impaired conviction within 10 years from a gross misdemeanor to a Class C felony.

Highlights of the House bill include:

  • An officer will be being required to arrest a suspected drunk or high driver on that person's second alleged offense within a 10-year period. An officer also will have the ability to arrest an allegedly drunk or high juvenile driver or commercial driver on first offense. Currently, a police officer has more discretion on whether to make an arrests.
  • If someone is arrested or arraigned on a second or subsequent offense, one of two options will be mandatory: The installation of an ignition-interlock device within five business days or wearing a special band with an alert triggered by drinking alcohol. A vehicle can be seized if such a driver is found operating that car without an ignition-interlock device. The courts and state currently exercise considerable flexibility on supervising ignition-interlock devices.
  • Penalties for the first gross misdemeanor driving-while-impaired conviction will remain the same at one or two days of jail up to 364 days in jail, depending on the blood-alcohol figures. A minimum of 15 to 30 days of electronic home monitoring -- again depending on the blood-alcohol readings -- can be substituted for the jail time, which is also the current law. These assume no prior DUI convictions in the past seven years. A blood-alcohol reading of 0.08 translates to a drunken driving charge.
  • The bill also creates a series of escalating penalties for second, third and fourth offenses. The fourth offense within 10 years with a blood-alcohol reading less than 0.15 bumps the minimum from 90 days in jail to 13 months in prison and the maximum sentence from 364 days to five years. A greater blood-alcohol reading increases the minimum sentence of 120 days to 13 months and the maximum from 364 days to five years.
  • If convicted of driving while impaired with a child in the vehicle, a person will face mandatory extra jail time of one day for the first offense, five extra days for the second offense within seven years, and 10 days for the third and fourth offenses within seven years. Currently, fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 are levied for driving impaired with children in the vehicles.

Under the bill, a study group would be created to figure out how to reduce driving-while-impaired offenses in Washington. It will make its recommendations by Dec. 1.

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8