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February 21, 2012 at 4:48 PM

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Lawmakers seek to toughen DUI-related laws

State lawmakers are working to increase penalties and fines for those who drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or commit vehicular homicide.

Three bills that deal with drunk and reckless driving moved out of the House and are now in the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. The bills got their first public hearing in committee Tuesday.

Under current law, first-time offenders convicted of vehicular homicide may face a jail sentence of about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years.

House Bill 2216, supported by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, would more than double the jail time to 6 1/2 to 8 1/2 years.

Satterberg said that although current jail sentence is set between 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 years, most offenders serve only 20 to 27 months for good behavior.

“That is not enough time to protect us,” Satterberg said. “That is not enough time to punish them.”

By increasing jail time for violators, proponents of HB 2216, sponsored by Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw, say that they hope to prove to the public that they’re taking drunk driving seriously.

Joan Davis of Port Orchard, said her daughter Jessica Torres was killed by a drunk driver in 2008. She said the driver was going 79 in a 35 mph zone. Although the driver was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail, he served less than two years, she said.

“Dead is dead and it’s a violent crime, whether it’s intentional or not,” Davis said. “He needs a longer sentence; he needs to be in jail.”

Another bill, HB 2302, sponsored by Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, would provide protection for more children found in a vehicle with a parent or guardian under the influence.

Current law requires law enforcement officers to notify Child Protective Services if a child under 13 years old is in the vehicle when arresting an individual for DUI. Goodman’s bill would increase the age limit to 16 years.

“[Children] are the most vulnerable,” said King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Amy Freedheim. “These are DUI drivers who know that they’re endangering a child.”

“Driving drunk is unacceptable,” Goodman said.. “Driving drunk with a child in the car is outrageous.”

The bill also would increase the length of time that someone convicted of a DUI-related gross misdemeanor or felony must use a breath alcohol ignition interlock device. Currently, offenders are required to use the device for at least 60 days. The bill would extend the time period to six months.

Goodman is sponsoring another bill, HB 2443, that would require the use of breath alcohol ignition interlock devices for those originally charged with DUI but convicted of reckless driving.

The bill would also amend the term “drug” to include any chemicals that may be inhaled or ingested for intoxicating or hallucinatory effects, such as benzine and nitric oxide.

Additionally, the bill would allow authorities to administer an alcohol breath or blood test on a felony DUI suspect without the suspect’s consent.

Another one of Goodman's bills, HB 2405, would allow a court to order anyone convicted of vehicular homicide to help financially support the victim's minor children. A hearing on that bill is schedule Wednesday.


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