DENVER — Despite reservations about the potential cost to the state, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed on Thursday about the need to send a stronger message to DUI offenders.
The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 1214, which would hit some repeat DUI offenders with a felony and the threat of jail time.
“Colorado is one of just five states left with no felony DUI law,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, the bill’s sponsor. “So you can be convicted of your fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh DUI and get the same penalty every time.”
Waller’s legislation would force prosecutors to charge offenders with a felony for their third DUI in seven years or their fourth over the course of a lifetime.
“It doesn’t make sense for that person who makes a mistake once to have a felony on their record,” Waller said. “But it also doesn’t make sense that that person who has an alcohol problem or a total disregard for the law doesn’t have more of an incentive not to drink and get behind the wheel.
“Now, if you have the possibility of a felony hanging over your head, that’ll be more of a deterrent.”
In recent years, similar legislation has failed over concerns about the fiscal impact to the state; but Waller says the state’s declining prison population and improving revenues make this year’s bill easier for Colorado to absorb.
In addition, Waller has added a provision to allow felony DUI offenders to avoid jail time by completing successful treatment for alcoholism.
“We can’t have people repeatedly getting DUIs in a short period of time and never risking becoming a felon as a result,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Denver, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“But the question with legislation is whether it’s the right solution to the problem. With this, it looks like it’s pretty close to being the right solution.”