Legislature

Felony DUI bill dies again

Bill would have created stiffer drunken-driving penalties

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An effort that dies every year suffered another death this Legislative session as a Senate committee on May 6 killed a bill that sought to create a felony drunken-driving penalty in Colorado.
The bill would have made a person's third DUI in seven years or fourth in a lifetime a felony punishable with possible prison time.
But the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 6 put an end to the bill, which would have resulted in millions of dollars in costs for having to incarcerate more offenders.
But that's a cost worth paying for a safer society, said Republican bill sponsors who blasted Senate Democrats who killed the legislation.
“The health and traveling safety is at risk from people who consistently drive under the influence of alcohol,” said Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction. “They do have a problem and they've gone through treatment and they continue to drive because it's easy for them.
“At what point does justice outweigh treatment?”
The bill had previously passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Steadman, D-Denver, said the bill would have resulted in an enormous cost to the state.
The bill wouldn't have cost anything for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, but state expenditures over the next three years would have combined for about $20.7 million, according to an updated Legislative Council fiscal analysis.
But Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the bill's House sponsor, said the state is in much better economic shape than it has been in recent years. That led him to wonder, “If we're not going to prioritize it this year, with this budget, when are we going to prioritize it?
“There is money in the budget to make this happen and we're never going to have a better circumstance than what we have today to make this happen,” Waller said.
Both Waller and King have tried for several years to make a felony DUI law a reality in Colorado. The bill has failed each time.
Colorado is one of only a handful of states that does not have a felony DUI law.
Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said she wasn't opposed to the bill, but understood why it failed. For one thing, Carroll said the bill would have resulted in $15 million in state costs for prison beds alone.
“It might make us feel better, but if you have $15 million to either put in treatment for alcohol abuse or $15 million in prison beds, where are we better off?” Carroll said. “It's a really good question.”
Steadman said that repeat DUI offenders have addictions and that prisons aren't the ideal place to treat their problems. Steadman also said that being an addict means you are less inclined to be deterred by the prospect of prison time, to begin with.
“You can get into a big debate about the deterrent effect of criminal law,” Steadman said. “And when you're dealing with a behavior that is driven by addiction, those deterrent effects and rational decision-making you kind of have to step back and question.”