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Felony DUI Bill Gets Legislative Committee Approval

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The Washington Senate Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that targets repeat offenders of the state’s driving while impaired laws.

The bill by Sen. Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley) would allow prosecutors to charge offenders facing their fourth DUI with a felony. The previous three convictions must have occurred within a 10-year period.

The bill is the one of the ideas developed by an impaired driving workgroup that met after the 2013 legislative session to figure out ways to reduce deaths caused by vehicle accidents. Similar bills have made partial progress during the last three legislative sessions but died because of concerns about the potential costs to the legal system.

The committee’s unanimous vote follows a hearing held on the bill last week. Dale Panettoni from Yakima was one of the several people who told stories about loved ones killed or severely injured by drunk drivers. In this case, the victim was his father-in-law, hit from behind by a driver while out walking.

“Do you know that Washington state is the only state in the union that does not consider a convicted D-U-I as a felony until the fifth conviction? That statistic is even more alarming when you consider the fact on average, a person drives impaired 80 times before they’re caught,” Panettoni said.

If the bill is approved and signed into law, the standard sentencing range for cases like this would be 13-to-17 months behind bars.

The bill now moves to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.