Push to lower legal limit to 0.05 for driving drunk falls short

Two Snohomish County state senators sought to have Washington join Utah with the nation’s toughest standard.

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OLYMPIA — An effort led by two Snohomish County lawmakers to lower the legal limit for driving drunk has come up short.

Senate Bill 5002 to reduce the maximum blood alcohol concentration for drivers from 0.08% to 0.05% failed to receive a vote Wednesday, the deadline to be passed out of the Senate to remain in play this legislative session.

Democratic Sens. John Lovick, of Mill Creek, and Marko Liias, of Everett, the bill’s chief sponsors, wanted Washington to join Utah with the toughest standard in the nation. They’ll now have to wait until next year to try again.

“I can’t help but be disappointed,” Lovick said Wednesday. “It was hard to get 25 votes. We thought we had it. We just didn’t.”

The two lawmakers introduced identical legislation last session but too late for consideration.

This time their bill received a hearing in the first week, moved through two committees and onto the floor calendar last month. It was teed up for a vote Wednesday morning, then skipped over.

“Sometimes you don’t get things through the first year,” Lovick said philosophically. “We’re going to keep working it.”

Reached Thursday, Liias said: “Big changes take time and we made a huge amount of progress this year. I’m hopeful 2024 is the year we get it done. In the meantime, we need people to stop driving under the influence.”

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, each said Thursday it’s a significant policy requiring time for lawmakers to better understand and digest.”

“I don’t think it was partisan,” Braun said. “I think there were folks who had concerns on how to implement it.”

Billig said the bill “generated a lot of interest. We’ll use this year as an education year.”

Deadly crashes involving drivers who had been drinking alcohol are at levels not seen in more than a decade.

In 2021, Washington recorded 670 traffic fatalities of which 202 people died in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver — the highest number since 2009, according to data compiled by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

Gov. Jay Inslee supported the bill. So too did state and local law enforcement organizations, the National Traffic Safety Board, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the state Department of Health and the Washington Trucking Association.

The Washington Hospitality Association and the Washington Wine Institute were among those opposed. At a January hearing, representatives of those organizations said with no discernible way to detect intoxication at 0.05%, thousands of alcohol servers would be put at risk of being held liable for over-serving a customer.

And on-premise wine tasting could be curtailed, and, in turn, lead to fewer sales, they said.

Other bills aimed at curbing impaired driving did advance in the Senate.

Senate Bill 5032, which passed 48-1 on Wednesday, would expand what’s known as the “look back” period for reviewing prior convictions of impaired driving when determining whether a new offense is charged as a felony. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is the author and Lovick is a co-sponsor.

Current law is 10 years. The bill would extend it to 15 years and increase the penalty from a gross misdemeanor to a felony offense for any person who has three or more prior DUI offenses within the “look back” period.

“Repeat impaired-driving offenders commit most of the vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults in Washington,” Padden said in a statement. “This bill tries to prevent those horrible and senseless crimes.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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