In a symbolic gesture, Governor Hickenlooper signed the felony DUI bill at breathalyzer manufacturer Lifeloc Technologies in Wheat Ridge, surrounded by victims and family members who lost loved ones in drunken-driving crashes.
The measure — which takes effect Aug. 5 — makes the fourth drunken-driving charge in a lifetime a felony punishable by up to six years in prison. Until now, Colorado was one of a handful of states where repeat offenders received only a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.
For the past five years, similar legislation failed. Hickenlooper made this year's bill one of his top priorities and helped convince reluctant members of his own party who feared it did too little to rehabilitate offenders with substance-abuse problems.
The original version imposed a felony charge on the third arrest for the most egregious cases, but lawmakers weakened the bill to reduce its price tag even as critics argued that neither bill would make roads safer.
Only a fraction of offenders are likely to get prison time under the measure, but it is expected to cost $20 million in the first three years for increased expenses in the judicial and prison systems.