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In Our View: Cracking down on offenders

Giving DUI laws real teeth

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Drunken driving traces a pattern: a bow wave of horror followed by a bow wave of hammer-dropping legislation that gets throttled. Then silence, as rawness and fear wear off.
Gov. Jay Inslee's executive-request legislation, unveiled at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, could be the forceful exception, presupposing lawmakers exhibit the courage of their talking points.
Two high-profile tragedies in Western Washington magnify the outrage, elevating the crime above the we-won't-sit-idle point. On March 25, a 50-year old drunken driver with a suspended driver's license plowed into the Shulte family in Seattle's Wedgewood neighborhood. Dennis Schulte, 66, and his wife, Judy Schulte, 68, were killed instantly. Daughter-in-law Karina Ulriksen-Schulte, 33, and her 10-day-old son, Elias, remain in critical condition.
Earlier this month, Morgan Williams, 58, was killed by a 26-year old drunken driver racing the wrong way on the 520 bridge. Williams was a former student body president at Oak Harbor High School.
In both instances, the suspect was already in the legal crosshairs.
The random horror of drunk driving has breathed life into efforts to clamp down. The stickler is finding a way to pay for tougher sentencing. Republican Sen. Mike Padden believes it can be squeezed into the budget, especially if offenders are required to pay for their transdermal bracelets, a device used to monitor alcohol consumption. Lawmakers may need to consider everything from closing tax loopholes to an additional sales tax on booze. Can it be managed with just 12 days left in the regular session?
The first, pre twin-tragedy effort was HB 1482, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Roger Goodman and co-sponsored by Snohomish County lawmakers John McCoy, Luis Moscoso, Marko Liias and Cindy Ryu. The bill centered on clarifying and strengthening penalties.
The latest bills, HB 2030 and its Senate companion, SB 5912, are no-nonsense. As Rep. Goodman observed, there is a critical window between an offender's arrest and being charged. With SB 5912, an ignition-interlock device is installed before a vehicle is released from impound.
Other features include preventing courts from deferring DUI sentences, prohibiting inveterate offenders from purchasing alcohol for 10 years (ambitious, that one), and the creation of a statewide, 24/7 sobriety program.
At Tuesday's press conference, an easel displayed a photo of 20-year old Sheena Blair, a Pierce College student who was killed by a drunken driver in Everett in 2010. Sheena's parents, Frank and Carol Blair, have become tireless activists, elbowing for stricter drunken driving laws.
Let's give them their wish.

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