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Politics

State Lawmakers Consider Tougher DUI Laws

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(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Lawmakers are considering tightening up the state’s laws against driving under the influence after two recent cases that left three dead and two — including an infant — critically injured.

Rep. Roger Goodman held a work group meeting Tuesday morning to discuss a variety of ideas to stop more impaired drivers. The working group comprised more than 20 people, including judges, attorneys, law enforcement, and victims of impaired drivers.

Ideas discussed at the meeting included making driving under the influence a felony on the third or fourth conviction within 10 years, rather than the current law that has it at five. Also discussed were lifetime driving bans after a certain number of DUIs and mandatory installment of interlock devices installed on cars after an arrest, rather than conviction.

Goodman noted the significant costs that would be associated with lowering the felony threshold, saying that it would cost about $200 million for construction of a new prison to confine the number of drunken drivers.

“These proposals are tough in our current fiscal climate,” he said.

But Frank Blair, whose 24-year-old daughter Sheena was killed by a drunken driver in 2010, said that costs can’t measure loss.

“At some point these people need to be removed from society because they kill us,” he said.

Goodman and other lawmakers from the Senate and House will meet with Gov. Jay Inslee in the afternoon to discuss what ideas could be included in legislation. The Senate has already carved out time for a Thursday morning hearing on a newly-introduced, title-only bill on driving under the influence.

Goodman said that while the state has passed several laws to increase penalties for drunken drivers, in light of recent deadly accidents, “there’s a compelling state interest here to improve road safety.”

Last month, a suspected drunken driver slammed into a family crossing the street in a residential Seattle neighborhood, a crash that critically injured a 10-day-old child and his mother and killed his grandparents.

Karina Schulte, 33, and her son remain in the intensive care unit, said Susan Gregg, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Grandparents Dennis Schulte, 66, and Judith Schulte, 68, died at the scene.

Mark Mullan, 50, was ordered held on $2.5 million bail pending an arraignment Thursday. He had prior DUI arrests, was driving on a suspended license at the time of the crash, and was supposed to have an interlock device on his truck, but did not.

Last week, a Seattle woman was killed in a crash with a wrong-way driver on Highway 520 near the University of Washington. Michael A. Robertson, 25, has been charged with vehicular homicide and ordered held on $1 million bail. Police and prosecutors say Robertson was driving under the influence when he crashed head-on into a car driven by 58-year-old Morgan Williams on Thursday.

Inslee said earlier in the day that he wants to see changes including more resources to prosecute drivers. He also said that the idea of putting interlock devices on cars immediately after arrest was potentially a “sensible approach.”

“What I would like to see is the most aggressive approach to alcohol impaired drivers as humanely possible here,” he said. “Alcohol-impaired drivers are just like a ticking time bomb that a terrorist would have, and we ought to have an adequately aggressive response to that.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who is sponsoring the bill that will be heard Thursday said that while drunken driving deaths have dropped in the state over the years, “we could do more.”

“Our goal should be zero deaths from drunk drivers,” he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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