- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state lawmakers are revisiting an idea to make a driver’s fourth drunken-driving conviction within 10 years a felony.

Under current Washington law, a felony DUI charge applies only if a driver already has been convicted of DUI four times in the previous decade. That’s the highest threshold among the 45 states that have laws to make repeat DUI offenders felons, said the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

Padden first proposed the idea last year but said that bill failed because of concerns over the expense of imprisoning more drunken drivers for felony convictions. He said Wednesday he believes this year’s bill has a better chance because a handful of Senate Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors. The measure also has support from Padden’s Republican colleagues.

“I think it’s a matter of priorities,” Padden said. “… We may need another prison, or to put one that we have in mothballs into operation.”

He said several victims of car crashes caused by repeat DUI offenders are scheduled to speak at a public hearing Thursday. Senate Bill 5105 will be before the Senate Law and Justice Committee, of which Padden is the chairman.

Capitol lawmakers have contemplated lowering Washington’s threshold for felony DUI from the fifth offense to the fourth offense since 2013, upon the recommendation of a work group created by Gov. Jay Inslee to toughen impaired-driving laws after a series of fatal wrecks.

Padden said he hopes the cost obstacle can be overcome this year to bring Washington’s DUI law closer to those in neighboring states. Both Oregon and Idaho have laws to make a driver’s third DUI within a decade a felony, Padden said.

“Everybody says, ‘We support the policy, we support the policy,’ but if we really support the policy, we’ll pass the bill,” he said.

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