Repeated drunken driving offenses are closer to being a felony, thanks to advancement by Colorado lawmakers Tuesday, though the bill has been weakened since it first hit the floor. Recent drunk driving deaths have moved this issue to the front burner in Colorado, consequently one of only four states with a DUI felony law.
The hold up has been the expense needed to accommodate the bill, which has delayed progress for weeks. The original bill would have cost almost $2.5 million next fiscal year and around $18 million in year three, but the new version weighs in at a more palatable $1.5 million with an approximate $8 million price tag in 2018.
State Rep. Beth McCann, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor, said she reluctantly agreed to soften the measure to reduce the cost to the state's courts and prison system. The fourth drunken driving offense would be a felony (carrying a two to six year prison sentence).
"It does reduce (the cost) quite a bit b but retains our purpose, which is to discourage drinking and driving and to give our courts and prosecutors more options when dealing with the repeat DUI offender," McCann told lawmakers at a hearing.
The House Finance Committee gave the measure unanimous approval, but its ultimate passage depends on finding room in the $25 billion state budget bill.
A similar bill died in the state Senate a year ago after lawmakers cited concerns about cost and a need to offer better alcohol treatment to offenders. This year, Gov. John Hickenlooper made it one of his top legislative priorities, and McCann said she is "very confident" it will reach his desk.
"The cost for putting these habitual drunk drivers in jail dims in comparison to the personal ... loss to victims," Ellie Phipps, a 49-year-old Grand Junction resident severely injured in a 2011 crash, told lawmakers.
If you are charged with a DUI, please contact a Denver lawyer, like The Orr Law Firm, right away for representation.