A thirty-day special session is underway in Olympia after the regular legislative session ended last month. One of the issues that lawmakers are expected to tackle is the toughening of drunk driving laws in Washington. It seems that every so often, a major Seattle area DUI-related story makes its way through the news cycle, and lawmakers then begin screaming for tougher laws in an effort to show that they are trying to be responsive to their constituents. But one significant source is advocating caution this time around - specifically, the Seattle Times newspaper.
In an editorial released on Sunday, the Times pointed out some of the problems with possible legislation being considered that would target drunk drivers. Some of the points made by the editorial:
- The eleventh-hour proposal would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million.
- The measures would call for additional drug treatment, judicial, and incarceration resources to be created while lawmakers simultaneously try to balance the state budget.
- One provision, which would make having a fourth DUI conviction a felony, could add almost 1,000 new inmates to the state prison system, thus pushing it even closer to capacity.
- The special session's agenda is already packed with items, such as compliance with court rulings on school funding and finding new revenue sources.
- Alcoholism is a disease, and this new bill doesn't adequately address that reality.
- The Seattle Times piece does point out that "one-fifth of the 600,000 DUI-related cases between 1998 and 2012 involved a defendant with multiple DUI charges." (Note that is identifies charges, not convictions.)
But we would add another point to those raised by the Times editorial: that any measures taken by the state legislature be grounded in scientific research and factual data, rather than knee-jerk emotional responses and political brownie points.