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Legislature approves making 4th DUI offense a felony

File photo (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Legislature has approved a measure that would make a fourth driving under the influence offense a felony in Washington state.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the measure on an 85-11 vote Thursday. It now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s approval to be signed into law.

The measure would allow prosecutors to file felony charges if a person gets a fourth DUI within 10 years. Under the new law, offenders would be sent to prison for 13 to 17 months, rather than serve shorter sentences in county jails.

Republican Sen. Mike Padden, the prime sponsor of the bill, said he has been working on the legislation since 2013. Padden, who is also the chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said it has always unanimously passed in the Senate but had never received a vote on the House floor until this week.

The Democratic-controlled chamber passed the measure on an 85-11 vote Thursday, and it now Gov. Jay Inslee's signature.

"We want to prevent these offenders from doing it again," said Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman during the House floor debate, who pointed out the bill also provides offenders with mandatory supervision after prison.

Goodman said he believes treatment is the most important part and will help end the repetitious cycle.

Washington state has one of the weakest felony DUI laws in the country, Padden said. Existing law requires four misdemeanor DUI convictions over 10 years before the fifth offense can be charged as a felony.

"This is a big step forward, it's going to save a lot of lives," Padden said in a phone interview.

According to the bill's fiscal note, nearly 192 cases would change from gross misdemeanors to felony DUI cases per year if the measure is signed into law. A date has not yet been set for the bill to be signed, though it will happen within the next few weeks.

Another clause in the bill says offenders must also pay an additional $50 fine - which is expected to raise about a million dollars - to help fund organizations that offer education programs to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Although considering the fourth DUI, instead of the fifth, a big improvement, Padden said he would still prefer to see the third DUI offense become a felony.

"Each time someone is allowed back on the road after a DUI it's a huge risk for people who are driving innocently along the road," he said.