Denver, CO- In a move that will surely anger victims and road safety advocates, members of the Colorado’s Senate voted down a bill that would have made repeat drunken driving offenses in the state a felony.
On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted “No” to the measure that would make a second or third DUI offense within a seven year period a felony which carries a penalty of up to six years in jail. The vote was divided along party lines with Democrats opposed to the bill.
Colorado is one of the few remaining states where repeat DUI offenses are not considered felonies.
While opposition to the bill varied, lawmakers, mostly Democrats, chose to kill the legislation because of the cost. The bill wasn’t set to be enacted until 2015 at a cost of approximately $1.6 million dollars. Some legislators believed that the appropriations committee should look at the legislation again when it comes time for draft a 2015 budget, the Denver Post reported.
Sen. Mary Hodge (D-Brighton) and chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee also believe that the bill doesn’t help treat the root cause of repeat DUI offenses, alcoholism and that more emphasis should be placed in treating the disease. Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, echoed Sen. Hodges sentiments adding that there is no proof that the legislation would reduce repeat DUIs and would mean more people would be incarcerated in an already crowded prison system.
The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the bill based on the grounds that there is not proof such legislation actually helps reduce drunken driving fatalities which is the aim of such bills.
“People who have repeat DUI offenses, the majority of those people suffer from alcoholism and addiction and that is a disease that I don’t think prison is necessary to treat that.” Sen. Steadman said.
But that reasoning was not enough for supporters of the legislation which included all Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who has repeatedly called for states to make DUI laws tougher.
“I can’t see any reason for us to not stand up for basic public safety here,” Sen. Mike Johnston (D.-Denver) who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Steve King (R-Grand Junction) said, according to the Denver Post. “Right now, we keep a law on the books that says if you have eight or nine DUIs, you can still walk after a short stint in jail. I’m not sure most Coloradans think this is a reasonable solution for a continuous problem.”
Under current Colorado law repeat DUI offenders face a maximum of up to a year in jail. But there are numerous others penalties associated with a first or repeat DUI offense which includes costly fines, loss of driving privileges, a huge spike in auto insurance rates and criminal attorney fees. Convicted offenders also face having the charges on their record which can affect their educational prospects and professional lives.
For many DUI offenders, the headaches that accompany such a charge are enough to stop them from repeating the offense.